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Food Chemistry Roundup

May 18, 2012

New studies reveal why black pepper fights fat cells, and why caffeine could help dry eye syndrome.


A fat-fighting condiment. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Black pepper owes its pungent taste to a compound called piperine. In recent years, studies have shown that piperine reduces fat levels in the blood. Now Korean researchers report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that they’ve figured out how it works. The piperine interferes with the activity of several genes responsible for the formation of fat cells.

In other food science news, millions of Americans suffer from dry eye syndrome that can leave eyes red and irritated and in severe cases can lead to permanent damage. But now researchers in Tokyo report in the journal Opthamology that coffee, or more specifically, caffeine, can increase tear production and treat the disorder. It was already known that caffeine stimulates secretion of saliva and gastric fluids, and that’s what led the scientists to try it for this eye condition. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Piper nigrum, or black pepper plant (Koehler/Medizinal-Pflanzen 1897)

The molecular structure of piperine. (NEUROtiker/Wikimedia Commons)