Posted on Apr 28, 2017, 6 a.m.
When injested, chili peppers and marijuana both interact with the same receptor in the stomach.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut have discovered a chemical compound that could lead to new treatments for diabetes and gastrointestinal conditions. The research team, led by Professor of Immunology and Medicine Pramod Srivastava from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, published their official findings in the April 24 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
Capsaicin is a chemical compound contained in spicy chili peppers. This chemical is responsible for the sensation of heat felt when they are consumed. The chemical binds to brain receptors, called TPRV1 receptors, to signal the sensation of heat from the tongue to the brain. TPRV1 receptors are also found in the gastrointestinal tract.
As part of their research, the team administered capsaicin to lab mice. These mice were found to have less inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Some mice who previously showed signs of Type 1 diabetes showed normal blood sugar levels after the trials.
The results are contributed to the capsaicin binding with TPRV1 receptors in the gastrointestinal tract. The binding process prompts the receptors to produce the chemical anandamide. This chemical soothes and relaxes the gastrointestinal tract. Researchers could repeat their original results by feeding anandamide directly to the lab mice, rather than using chili peppers.
Researchers do not fully understand how the chemical causes the immune system and brain to interact.
Anandamide and cannabinoids are chemically similar. When a person consumes marijuana, anandamide receptors in the brain react to the presence of cannabinoids. This produces feelings of euphoria and relaxation, or a “high”. Marijuana consumption causes anandamide production.
Anandamide and the Gastrointestinal Tract
While the team has not uncovered the mechanism that allows the brain to communicate with the immune system, they do understand how it helps heal the gastrointestinal tract.
There are other receptors that react to anandamide. These signal the production of immune cells called macrophages. These cells reduce inflammation. Higher anandamide levels correlate with higher macrophage presence, which can mean a significant reduction in inflammation. Anandamide and macrophage production can positively affect conditions in the esophagus, stomach, and pancreas.
Current trials are testing the effect of anandamide on conditions affecting the lower gastrointestinal tract, such as colitis.
Current federal marijuana regulations make clinical trials using human subjects difficult. Researchers are hoping to partner with the state of Colorado to obtain statistics on the effect of edible marijuana on colitis sufferers. That evidence could support the use of medicinal marijuana to treat severe gastrointestinal disorders.
Future research will focus on finding the specific molecular pathway anandamide uses to send signals between the stomach and the brain. The team is also investigating how anandamide reacts with other receptors, and the functions they serve.
Nandini Acharyaa, Sasi Penukondab, Tatiana Shcheglovaa, Adam T. Hagymasia, Sreyashi Basua,1, and Pramod K. Srivastavaa,1, April 24 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Endocannabinoid system acts as a regulator of immune homeostasis in the gut, Nandini Acharya, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1612177114