Feb 18, 2015 6:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Could hot peppers be the secret to a slim physique?

Recent headlines imply just that, based on research conducted by researchers at University of Wyoming. They found that capsaicin—the substance that gives chili peppers their kick—could turn fat cells into calorie-burning machines. Their study was conducted on mice.

Humans (and mice) have two kinds of fat: white fat and brown fat. White fat is more of a storage fat, while brown fat burns calories to help the body maintain its core temperature. The researchers think that capsaicin prompts white fat cells to behave like brown fat and burn calories rather than hanging on to them.

There are caveats to the new research, says Timothy Graham, MD, an endocrinologist at University of Utah Health.

“This is not a new concept,” he says. “The idea that capsaicin can act on different cell types due to its receptors has been around for decades.”

One study on humans more than a decade ago found what Graham calls only “modest” effects.

“The difference here [in the Wyoming research] is they’ve located a specific receptor that may mediate this effect in mice,” Graham says. “Whether that’s the same in humans is completely unknown.” He says it might be a useful point on which scientists could base further research, but it’s not realistic to think chili peppers are going to magically melt away fat.

In other words, you can’t cancel out the calories in those nachos by throwing a few jalapeño slices on top.

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