Is black pepper a nootropic? Can it actually help improve our mental function?
Surprisingly, the short answer to this question is yes.
However, sprinkling some pepper onto your food isn’t going to provide any beneficial effects, though. You have to supplement with an extract for that.
Perhaps an equally important question is, if black pepper can be considered a nootropic, how does it work? What does it do?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Anti-Cancer Agent
- Stress Protector
- Mood Booster
- Memory Enhancer
Pepper does all of that? Yes! Believe it or not, it does! But how?
When we look at the mechanisms of action for piperine, two major pathways stand out:
- Piperine Acts as a Nootropic
- 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.
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 accomplishes these things by blocking the effects of 2 compounds naturally produced in the liver:
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.
In a similar manner, the enzyme CYP3A4 can prematurely break down certain nootropics, thereby preventing them from doing their work as cognitive enhancement agents.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
P.S. – If you know anyone that might benefit from reading this article, please share it with them.
After all, sharing is caring!