Good news for both chili pepper and marijuana lovers, as scientists have found both contain a compound that helps calm the gut’s immune system.
It turns out when consumed, both interact with a particular receptor in the stomach that reduces inflammation in the digestive tract. This discovery could lead to the development of new treatments for type 1 diabetes and colitis, an inflammatory gut condition.
The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, began with the researchers from the University of Connecticut feeding capsaicin, the chemical found in chili peppers, to mice and discovering that those that had consumed the spice had less inflammation in the gut.
In fact, they found that by feeding the mice capsaicin, they were able to cure type 1 diabetes.
What was really interesting was they found that the capsaicin bound itself to a receptor called TRPV1, which is found throughout the gastrointestinal tract. When the capsaicin bound itself to TRVP1, it created a compound called anandamide, which is chemically similar to cannabinoids found in marijuana.
The researchers found it was the anandamide that reduced inflammation in the mice’s gut, calming their immune system down, so they tested feeding the anandamide directly to the mice and found the same thing happened.
On closer inspection, they found that anandamide reacts with another receptor that produces a type of macrophage, immune cells that reduce inflammation. The higher the levels of anandamide, the higher the levels of macrophage, and this was seen throughout the gut, including the esophagus, stomach, and pancreas.
The pancreas maintains insulin and glucose levels in the body. For those with type 1 diabetes, the body mistakenly attacks the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Without insulin, the pancreas struggles to regulate the body's glucose levels. This research suggests that the protective effect of anandamide could help lead to therapies to treat those with diabetes.
The same receptors that anandamide binds to in the gut also exist in the brain, and it's these receptors reacting with the cannabinoids in marijuana that gets you high. However, scientists have been unsure why we have these receptors and what function they might perform.
The researchers suggest this is the first study to show a major immune function for cannabinoids and that perhaps our digestive system and nervous system are more closely linked than previously thought.
“This allows you to imagine ways the immune system and the brain might talk to each other,” explained co-author Pramod Srivastava in a statement. “They share a common language."
The researchers hope that further study can be carried out using marijuana, though the fact it's not legal in some states in the US makes it hard to get a federal license to study the effects that consuming marijuana could have on the digestive system.