Is Black Pepper a Nootropic?

The short answer to this question is yes.

Surprisingly, black pepper provides a lot of benefits to human brain function.

Sprinkling some pepper onto your food isn’t going to have nootropic effects, though.  You have to supplement with an extract for that.

The active ingredient in black pepper is called ‘Piperine’, and that’s what we’ll be talking about in this post.

Piperine has been shown to improve memory, mood, and to relieve anxiety.

It’s also a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer agent, and a natural antidepressant.

Last but not least, piperine has a special ability to increase the absorption rate of other nootropics, making them more effective.

But before we start answering the question, ‘Is black pepper a nootropic?’, let’s find out about some of its’ other uses and history.

Black Pepper as a Spice, Medicine, and Nootropic

If we go back about 500 years, pepper was an extremely important item during the spice trade in Europe.

In fact, it was worth its’ weight in gold, and was even used as currency.

Pepper is native to southwest India, and is also cultivated commercially in Thailand.

It grows on a flowering vine, Piper Nigrum, and each flower produces dozens of tiny berries.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Raw Peppercorn Berries

The berries are dried in the Sun for 4-5 days, and this is where peppercorns come from.

The active ingredient in the peppercorns is piperine, and each peppercorn contains about 5-10% piperine by weight.

Piperine is what gives black pepper its’ pungent odor and sharp flavor.  It has a lot of similarities to capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot peppers, but it’s only 1/10 as potent.

In fact, piperine is now known to be useful for so much more than just a key ingredient in a can of bear spray.

This is largely due to the efforts of a Danish chemist by the name of Hans Orsted.

In 1819, Orsted successfully extracted piperine from peppercorns for the very first time.

He classified it as an alkaloid, and this opened the door to further research into its’ properties and uses.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Scientist Analyzing some Goop

However, traditional healers in the East already knew it had a lot to offer as an herbal medicine.

Pepper has a rich history in Ayurvedic, where it’s used in about half of their traditional remedies.  It’s been used along with turmeric for arthritis, general pain relief, stomach issues, and a host of other ailments.

Medical practitioners in Thailand have also prescribed pepper to treat cancerous tumors for centuries, mainly for its’ antioxidant properties, but also for its’ ability to help manage pain.

Research aimed at proving the effectiveness of piperine in these areas is ongoing, and the newest area of interest is how it can be used as a nootropic for improving brain function.

Which brings us to our next topic of discussion.

Piperine Optimizes Brain Health

There are a lot of issues that can get in the way of optimal cognitive function, and several of them get worse as we age.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Burnt Out Light Bulb

This is a comprehensive list:

  • Free Radical Damage
  • Brain Cell Degradation
  • Neurotransmitter Decline
  • Absorption Reduction
  • Disease Risk

I’m going to point out how all of these hurdles can degrade brain health, and then go over how piperine can help.

Don’t worry, even if chemistry wasn’t your favorite subject in school, I’ll make it easy to understand.

Free Radical Damage

Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons.  This makes them very unstable.

You could compare them to a person holding a hot potato.  They really want to give that hot potato away to the first person they see.

The problem is, the next person to come along might burn their hands!

In the above example, the hot potato is the unpaired electron.

If the unpaired electron bonds with an essential structure like DNA or RNA, it can interfere with the coding process, and that can trigger the formation of a cancer cell.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Cancer Cells

Brain Cell Degradation

Brain cells replace themselves more slowly as we age, and that means the brain cell membranes also start to function less efficiently.

The neurotransmitter receptors are less sensitive, and the synapses don’t fire as quickly.

The end result is slower recall of information, and longer reaction times.  The ability to learn new skills and assimilate information can also be diminished.

Neurotransmitter Decline

The human brain produces less dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine as we age.  These neurotransmitters are critical to our emotional and mental well being.

Reductions in dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine levels can result in less mental energy, depressed mood, as well as issues like brain fog and forgetfulness.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Depressed Man

Absorption Reduction

The ability to absorb nutrients can decline as we age, so even if we are ingesting enough of a given nutrient, we may not receive the amount needed to function properly.

A good example is vitamin B12, which is very poorly absorbed by people over the age of 50, so much more needs to be taken to maintain optimal health.

Disease Risk

Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia can partially be caused by genetic predisposition, but they’re also more commonly seen in older folks.

The main reason for this is that the synapses of the brain can get clogged up with proteins and other debris as we get older.  Kind of like an old car getting worn out and rusty.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Rusty Old Car

So how does piperine help with all of these issues?

Let’s take a closer look.

Piperine Benefits – Mechanisms of Action

Generally speaking, the easiest benefits to pick out when looking at piperine for overall brain health are its’ actions as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer agent.

However, if we dig a little deeper, we also find that it provides anxiety relief, elevates mood, improves memory, and can even be effective as an antidepressant.

If we look at all these advantages in a list, it looks something like this:

  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Anti-Cancer Agent
  • Stress Protector
  • Mood Booster
  • Memory Enhancer
  • Antidepressant

Pepper does all of that?  Yes!  Believe it or not, it does!  But how?

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Superhero Flying

When we look at the mechanisms of action for piperine, two major pathways stand out:

  1. Piperine Acts as a Nootropic
  2. Piperine Helps other Nootropics Work Better

Piperine optimizes neurotransmitter levels by preventing the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) from breaking them down.

In particular, it is very effective at preserving higher levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.

Acting as an MAO inhibitor has the overall effect of reducing anxiety, elevating mood, and improving memory.

It’s also important to note that seratonin levels are seen to be raised significantly in the hippocampus when piperine is blocking MAO-A and MAO-B.

Serotonin is well known as one of Mother Natures’ favorite ‘Happy Pills’, and the hippocampus is the emotional center of the brain.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Girl Laying on Ground Smiling

It’s for these reasons that piperine has been shown to be so effective at elevating mood; to the point where it is considered nearly as effective as traditional antidepressants.

This is how piperine acts as a nootropic.  But how does it increase the effectiveness of other nootropics?

Let’s look at the specifics, shall we?

Piperine Improves Bioavailability

One of the very special traits piperine brings to the table, and one of the reasons it is included in a lot of nootropic supplements, is its’ ability to improve the absorption rates of other nootropics.

However, more research in this area is still needed.  The ability to increase bioavailability of other nootropics varies widely.

Piperine has been shown to increase the bioavailability of CoQ10 by about 30%, for example, but can increase curcumin absorption by over 2,000%.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Range of Results on a GraphThat’s quite a wide range!

Piperine accomplishes these things by blocking the effects of 2 compounds naturally produced in the liver:

  1. P-Glycoprotein
  2. CYP3A4

Basically, the liver tries to protect the body from toxicity by attaching a P-Glycoprotein molecule to any ‘foreign molecules’ it detects.

When medications or nootropics are flagged like this, they get flushed out in the urine.

Sometimes they get dumped so quickly that they hardly have any time to perform their designated tasks.

This is great when you’ve accidentally taken something into your body that shouldn’t be there, but not the best when you purposely take nootropics to improve your brain function.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Technician Testing Urine Samples

In a similar manner, the enzyme CYP3A4 can prematurely break down certain nootropics, thereby preventing them from doing their work as cognitive enhancement agents.

Fortunately, piperine has been shown to block the activities of P-Glycoprotein and CYP3A4.

This in turn increases the effectiveness of the nootropics taken to improve cognition, and extend the duration of their effects.

Now that we have established that piperine is an effective nootropic on it’s own, and it has the ability to support the workings of other nootropics, let’s look at how to use it for best results.

Piperine Forms, Dosage Notes, and Side Effects

Piperine is readily available in the form of freshly ground peppercorns, but as I mentioned earlier, you won’t see any nootropic benefits by sprinkling some pepper on your food.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Pepper Grinder

The easiest way to take piperine as a nootropic supplement is in capsules.

The recommended dosage to increase absorption of other nootropics is 5-20 mg/day.

There is a patented form of piperine extract called BioPerine, which is made by the Sabinsa Corporation.

Sabinsa offers BioPerine as a stand alone supplement, but also sells the licensing for BioPerine to other manufacturers.

Their proprietary extraction process is the best on the market, and some of the better supplement companies I know of use Bioperine.

Awakened Alchemy, for example, uses BioPerine in both of their daytime nootropic stacks; Awaken and Awaken Gold.

They want to use the highest quality ingredients in their products whenever possible.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Bottle of AwakenIn terms of side effects, piperine is very well tolerated by most people.  It’s non-toxic, and safe to use within the recommended dosages.

The amount needed to improve bioavailability is 5-20 mg/day, and up to 360 mg/day can be taken in order to see general health benefits for arthritis or body pain.

Taking a supplement with piperine in it, along with BioPerine as a stand alone product, could magnify the effects of piperine to the point where burning sensations in the throat or stomach are felt.

It’s also a good idea to avoid taking piperine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.  The effects of taking piperine while expecting are still poorly understood.

If you’re already taking antidepressants, please consult with your doctor before adding any supplements with piperine in them to your health care regimen, just to be cautious.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Black Pepper Capsules

Remember, piperine acts as an MAOI, or monoamine oxidase inhibitor.  Taking piperine along with a prescription antidepressant, or MAOI could significantly amplify their effects.

All right, now that we know how to use piperine for best results, let’s wrap things up, shall we?

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic? – Final Word

Well, now we know that black pepper isn’t just used for Ninja smoke bombs.

In this article, I’ve tried to alleviate any doubts around the question, ‘is black pepper a nootropic?’.

Let’s take stock and see what we’ve covered.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - The Word Assess Spelled Out with Scrabble Pieces

We’ve established that it’s useful for relieving pain and inflammation, and it can protect the body from harmful free radicals.

In fact, modern research has verified that it’s effective in preventing cancer cells from continuing to grow.

This substantiates the traditional use of pepper to treat cancerous tumors in Thailand.

One characteristic that make piperine very interesting as a nootropic is its’ ability to optimize mood enhancing neurotransmitters, especially in the emotional center of the brain.

This makes piperine so effective at elevating mood, that it is considered a good natural alternative to traditional prescription drugs for depression.

Is Black Pepper a Nootropic - Happy Woman in Sunflower Field

Piperine is also appreciated for its’ ability to increase the absorption rates of other nootropics, and allowing their effects to last longer.

This has made black pepper extract a common addition to many nootropic supplements, especially those with an emphasis on pain relief or mood enhancement.

A good example would be phenylethylamine(PEA), which only lasts for 30-60 minutes without piperine, but can last up to 2 hours when taken with a black pepper extract.

Despite it’s potency, piperine is very safe to use.  There are some cautions for anyone using antidepressants or MAOI’s, but it’s generally well tolerated.

All right, that’s about all I had to share with you about black pepper as a nootropic.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

 

In my next article, I’ll be talking about Uridine for brain health.  It’s so essential to the development of nerve tissue, that we’ve been adding it to baby formula for years!

It should be an interesting read, so don’t miss it!

See you there!

 

Michael

P.S. – If you know anyone that might benefit from reading this article, please share it with them.

After all, sharing is caring!

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14 thoughts on “Is Black Pepper a Nootropic?”

  1. Hello Michael,

    Thank you for putting together this very interesting article.

    The idea of black pepper as a nootropic is new for me.  I just considered it a flavoring for my food, just like everybody else.

    However, it has some very advantageous properties for boosting mental performance and mood.

    I’ve always said that a properly functioning brain is essential to a properly functioning body. The brain controls all the body functions for as long as you are alive.

    Anything that enhances the functions of the brain, and helps it to work to its maximum is welcome.

    Thanks for writing this great post!

    Russell 

    Reply
    • Hey Russell,

      I’m really glad you enjoyed my article, and thanks for sharing!

      You sound like a very health conscious individual, and I really appreciate that.  Health is wealth.  You just can’t enjoy anything if your mind and body are failing you.

      If you want to take things to the next level with your cognitive performance, I recommend you read my article on Awakened Alchemy.

      They have some really great nootropic supplements that could help you optimize your mental capacities, and they use piperine to increase their effectiveness.

      I tried Awaken Gold for a few months, and I really liked it.  It gave me a lot more energy and clarity.

      If you decide to try one of the Awakened Alchemy stacks, please let me know how it goes for you.

      Any other questions, just let me know.

      Michael

      Reply
  2. Hello Michael,

    Interesting information about the help you could get from adding black pepper to your diet.  Especially for help with pain.

    Added to mood elevation, and this could easily be something several of us could use for a better daily life.  With aging and busy lifestyles, meals do not always provide all we need to stay healthy.

    I have heard about using pepper extracts for pain relief, but was surprised when you said that we need to ingest more than what we would normally eat with our food.

    I assumed there was some kind of extract we can use, but didn’t know that is really where the health value is.  

    You also said that this grows in India and is cultivated in Thailand.  Does all the ground pepper we have for our tables come from these 2 sources?

    I guess with the popularity of peppers in so many ethnic foods, I assumed that it came from everywhere.

    Does it just grow wild in India? Is it considered a native plant?

    Thanks for putting this article together.  Very interesting.

    Sami

    Reply
    • Hi Sami,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my article.  Really appreciate your interest!

      Yes, the recommended dosage to increase absorption of other nootropics is only 5-20 mg/day, but if you want to use black pepper for pain relief you need to use a lot more.

      If you tried to eat that much pepper on your food, you could get an upset stomach.  It’s just easier to use a supplement.

      In answer to your questions about Piper Nigrum, the flowering vine that pepper comes from, it’s native to southwest India.  However, it’s grown in other countries, like Thailand and China.

      In the old days, during the spice trade in Europe, most of the pepper on the market was from India.  Today, the World’s top producer is Thailand.  However, like I said, it gets cultivated in other countries too.

      Glad you found this post informative.

      If you would like to know more about how black pepper and turmeric are used together, you should read my article on turmeric.

      Thanks once again for sharing your thoughts!

      Michael

      Reply
  3. Hello Michael,

    This is an extremely informative post about black pepper and piperine.  I have certainly learnt a lot about it.

    I never knew pepper, or piperine, had so many health benefits.

    It seems, though, that you will only get the benefits if you are using piperine as a supplement. So will putting pepper on your food have no effect at all, or is it such a small effect that it is not noticeable?

    This is also the first time that I’ve come across the term ‘nootropic’.

    I certainly get the impression that nootropics are good for us, but what is a nootropic actually?

    I’d really like to know more, so if you could help me please, I’d really appreciate it.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hello,

      Thanks so much for reading my post.  Really appreciate it.

      In answer to your questions, you will see improved absorption of some nutrients when you eat smaller amounts of pepper with your food.  However, the effects will be very subtle, and you probably won’t notice them.

      Nootropics are nutrients, herbs, or drugs that improve brain health and function.  They should enhance mental capacities with little or no side effects to be considered true nootropics.

      If you would like to get a little more perspective on what nootropics are, you can read my article; ‘What are Nootropics?’.  

      Please let me know if you still have any questions after giving it a read.

      If you post another comment there, I’ll get right back to you.

      Michael

      Reply
  4. Hello Michael,

    I happened on this post by accident while looking for pepper steak recipe.

    This article really took me by surprise. I absolutely love black pepper. I understand that it helps with digestion and pain relief, but I didn’t know that it could help give our brains a boost.

    That’s a new frontier for me. Maybe I’m just surprised because pepper is so common. I just thought it was a spice.

    Thanks so much for opening my eyes, and providing these interesting insights.

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • Hi Catherine,

      I’m glad kismet led you to my site, and I hope you find the pepper steak recipe you’re looking for.

      I totally understand your chagrin at finding out black pepper is a nootropic. We live in an unprecedented time of prosperity and privilege.

      Pepper used to be very expensive, and hard to get your hands on, but now we all have some in our kitchen cabinets.

      Another common nootropic that gets completely overlooked is caffeine. You should read my article on caffeine as a nootropic. I bet you would enjoy it.

      In any case, I’m glad this article gave you a fresh perspective.

      If you think of any questions later, just give me a holler!

      Michael

      Reply
  5. Michael,

    I had NO idea what a Nootropic was! Until now!

    I guess you learn something new every day.

    Being from the Caribbean (Trinidad), hot peppers are as integral to our life, just like the Sun.

    I also did not know that black pepper had so many benefits, and certainly never thought about taking it as a supplement. We use it every day too but for cooking – to flavor our meats and vegetables, and to give that extra pop to the taste.

    You have inspired me to experiment and see if I can grow pepper vines/trees on our estate here.

    Thank you, and I look forward to learning more from you.

    Cassandra

    Reply
    • Cassandra,

      Nice to hear from the sunny climes of the Caribbean! Thank you for sharing your interest, and your enthusiasm!

      I’m glad you found my article interesting and informative.

      If you do end up growing some pepper vines at home, please let me know how it goes.

      Not everybody has the option of growing tropical plants in their back yard! (insert sarcasm here)

      Thanks once again,

      Michael

      Reply
  6. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for sharing your insights on piperine and it’s benefits. I really enjoyed reading this article.

    I find it so interesting that modern science is being used to verify what many people in different cultures have known for centuries.

    A good example is piperine increasing the absorption of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. I knew that it helped, but I didn’t think it would increase bioavailability by over 2000%!

    That’s a very significant difference!

    You also mentioned that piperine enhances brain performance, and elevates mood.

    I use black pepper a lot, especially with turmeric. But now that I have read this post, I know that I need to use a supplement to feel the full impact of this herb.

    We really live in the age of information.

    I find it ironic that pepper has been in use for thousands of years, but we are only now becoming fully aware of all it can do for us…

    Thank you once again,

    Maggie

    Reply
    • Hi Maggie,

      Thank you so much for reading my article and taking the time to share your thoughts.

      I think it’s great that you’re already using pepper along with turmeric to give your health a boost.

      Good on you!

      If you would like to know more about how black pepper and turmeric support each other, you should read my post on turmeric. It gives you a little more perspective on the synergy between them.

      Thanks once again for reading, and if you think of any questions later, just leave another comment.

      Michael

      Reply
  7. Hi Michael,

    Thank you for putting together this very informative article, it was a useful read for me.

    Yeah, it makes sense to add a black pepper supplement to your daily routine, especially in the modern world we live in. Does it upset your stomach, though?

    I like the fact you are making some recommendations in terms of a specific product.

    Thanks again,

    Natalie

    Reply
    • Hi Natalie,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post.

      I believe Bioperine is supposed to be taken with food to prevent any issues, but you can check out their site to find out for sure: https://www.bioperine.com/

      If you do end up trying Bioperine as a stand alone supplement, please let me know how it goes.

      Michael

      Reply

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