Not only is black pepper an indispensable spice, it could potentially be a treatment for vitiligo! This skin condition is characterized by the appearance of white patches on the skin. It is estimated that one person out of one hundred is affected by it. Neither infectious, nor contagious, vitiligo is thought to be a multifactorial autoimmune disease. Although it is neither painful nor life-threatening, the consequences it has on a sufferer’s physical appearance can nevertheless have serious psychological repercussions.
The main problem is that vitiligo most often proves resistant to all types of treatments. The treatments currently offered are: topical preparation of corticosteroids; and phototherapy using UV radiation (UVR). Regretfully, less than a quarter of all patients respond positively to preparations of corticosteroids, and phototherapy treatments causes uneven re-pigmentation, in addition to being associated with an increased risk of suffering from skin cancer in the long term.
Researchers have discovered that piperine, the compound that gives black pepper its spicy and bitter flavour, can stimulate skin pigmentation. Consequently, a team of researchers has evaluated the effect of piperine and of two of its synthetic derivatives on the skin of mice, alone or in combination with phototherapy. It is thought that piperine and its derivatives stimulate melanocytes, the cells that produce the pigments responsible for skin coloration. Used alone, the black pepper derivatives were able to stimulate the pigmentation and induce an even coloration of the skin (light brown) in as little as six weeks. In conjunction with phototherapy treatment, the skin of the rodents had acquired a more even and darker coloration, and the effect lasted much longer than with UVR treatments alone. As a result, black pepper could eventually become much more than a simple spice for individuals at grips with vitiligo!