advertisement



Q & A Library


Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Q
Easy on the Black Pepper?

Someone told me that black pepper can be poisonous if you use a lot. True?

A
Answer (Published 12/19/2006)

Maybe, but you would have to use an awful lot of pepper for a long time to run into trouble. The concern about pepper arises from one of its components, safrole, also found in small amounts in star anise, nutmeg, witch hazel, and basil. In the 1960s, the FDA banned the use of safrole in food in the United States after it was found that injecting large amounts caused liver cancer in lab rats. Perhaps the biggest effect of this ban has been to eliminate the use of sassafras root in the making of root beer. Volatile oils found in the bark of the root of the sassafras plant are 80 percent safrole. Nowadays, sassafras can be used as an ingredient in root beer only if the safrole is removed through a laboratory extraction process.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging for Healthy Eating - Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging for Nutrition - Want to change your diet? The Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging online guide is your anti-inflammatory diet headquarters. Start your free trial and get access to an exclusive version of Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid, hundreds of recipes, eating guides, and more.

Black pepper is the most popular spice in the world, and black, green and white peppercorns all come from the black pepper plant (Piper nigrum), native to Asia. Black is the whole, partially ripened fruit; green is the unripe fruit; and white is the peeled seed.

I'm not that concerned about safrole. Eating moderate amount of it in plant products (such as sassafras tea) is not comparable to injecting large amounts of the pure chemical into the abdomens of rats. But black pepper can be an irritant of the GI tract, urinary tract, and prostate, and I don't think it should be consumed frequently in quantity.

I generally don't let waiters grind their pepper mills over my food at restaurants until I taste it first. For a hot spice, I prefer red pepper, which comes from a different plant (Capsicum spp.), doesn't have any natural carcinogenic activity, has a long history of medicinal use, and provides healthful carotenoids. It can help lower cholesterol and stimulate circulation, and can actually help heal the lining of the stomach.

While we're on the subject of pepper, you should know that pink peppercorns are not true pepper. They're the dried berries of the Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthfolius) and have become popular despite questions about their safety. Pink peppercorns can cause symptoms resembling those of poison ivy/oak, as well as headaches, swollen eyelids, shortness of breath, chest pains, sore throat, hoarseness, upset stomach, diarrhea and hemorrhoids. I avoid them.

Finally, Sichuan peppercorns, used in East Asian cuisine, are the dried fruits of the prickly ash tree (Zanthoxylum piperitum). They have an interesting numbing effect on the tongue in addition to a peppery flavor, and their toxicity appears to be minimal.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle, LLC on DrWeil.com (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!
 

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

 
Copyright © 2014 Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here