Scientists have discovered the key to the ability of spicy foods to kill cancer cells.
They found capsaicin, an ingredient of jalapeno peppers, triggers cancer cell death by attacking mitochondria – the cells’ energy-generating boiler rooms.
The research raises the possibility that other cancer drugs could be developed to target mitochondria.
The study showed that the family of molecules to which capsaicin belongs, the vanilloids, bind to proteins in the cancer cell mitochondria to trigger apoptosis, or cell death, without harming surrounding healthy cells.
Capsaicin was tested on cultures of human lung cancer cells and on pancreatic cancers.
Lead researcher Dr Timothy Bates said: “As these compounds attack the very heart of the tumour cells, we believe that we have in effect discovered a fundamental ‘Achilles heel’ for all cancers.
The fact that capsaicin and other vanilloids are already commonly found in the diet proves they are safe to eat.
This could make development of a drug containing them a much quicker and cheaper process.