Black pepper has been used for thousands of years and although this may not appear pertinent to the question “Is black pepper good for you?” we should perhaps remember that some clinical trials of natural substances are speeded up because they have been consumed for centuries without any (or hardly any) reported deaths.
Black, white and green peppercorns all cone from the same plant Piper nigrum with black pepper being the dried whole unripe fruit of the plant and white pepper being the ripe fruit with the outer skin removed. People tend to prefer the taste of black pepper to white and there are far fewer culinary disasters due to the overuse of black as opposed to white pepper.
The oil from black pepper has been given to patients who have suffered strokes to inhale so that they can swallow better. Alzheimer’s sufferers have also been given it to inhale with beneficial results reported, although more trials are needed to ascertain how this works precisely. Other studies have shown that the oil when inhaled has improved withdrawal symptoms in people who are trying to stop smoking cigarettes.
Black pepper has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and so helps to prevent the risks of cancers. It also may have anti-microbial properties, and it contains vanadium which is being researched for its potential benefits in improving insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels in people with Type -2 diabetes.
Both black and white pepper can be applied directly onto the skin as a counter-irritant to scabies and for the relief of neuralgia. In the Asian subcontinent the black variety is used in food for those with weak stomachs who have digestive disorders, as it is thought to increase the flow of digestive juices. However it can cause dyspepsia (upset stomach) in some people. It has also been used in the treatment of bronchitis and cancer. Modern medical studies have found that black pepper may protect against colon cancer, but there is the possibility that it may on the other hand promote cancer of the liver. It is also believed that there might be a link between ingestion of black pepper and esophageal cancer.
Inhalation of the pepper (not the oil) can result in respiratory irritation, oedema (swelling), respiratory arrest, severe anoxia and even death-so don’t inhale it.
Black pepper has been approved in foodstuffs by the US Food and Drink Administration in the Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) category. Using it as a medicine is not to be recommended. However, using it in food should not cause a problem. Inhaling it would seem to be a rather strange thing to do and given the results, best avoided.
If you use this pepper in the usual way then you should not have any worries. In the traditional forms of medicine in the Indian subcontinent it is not used when frying food, only in sauces and stews, or sprinkled over salads. Red chillies are used for medicinal purposes rather than other types of pepper, and these have recently been in the news, because it would seem that they inhibit the growth of cancerous kidney cells. Black pepper should be taken in moderation; it would not be advisable to chew on handfuls of peppercorns. Use it in food for its taste and flavour as it has been used for thousands of years and unless you are taking cholinergic agonists, cyclosporine, digoxin, propranolol, rifampin or theophylline you will be fine. If you are taking any of these drugs, ask your health care provider about any concerns you have. Remember that it is not a medicine, but a condiment and use it as such.