It is difficult to think that chili and marijuana may have something in common, but it is. According to a study published yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and contrary to what we could reasonably think, both have the virtue of calming your gut.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut decided to feed laboratory mice with capsaicin. This was how they found they had less inflammation in their intestines. Even mice with type 1 diabetes were eliminated after their ingestion. When they examined what was happening at the molecular level, the researchers observed that capsaicin bound to a receptor called TRPV1, which is found in specialized cells throughout the gastrointestinal tract. When capsaicin binds to it, TRPV1 causes the cells to create anandamide. This compound is chemically related to the cannabinoids contained in marijuana. It was the anandamide that caused the immune system to calm down. The researchers found that if they applied the compound directly to the rat intestine, they also had the same improvement.
Although scientists still do not know how or why anandamide can transmit messages between the immune system and the brain, they have found the details of how the bowel is cured. The molecule reacts with either TRPV1 (to produce more anandamide) or with another type of receptor that communicates with macrophages, which act against inflammation. This population of macrophages and their activity increases as the anandamide increases. The effects are seen throughout the upper intestine, including the esophagus, stomach and pancreas.