Chili pepper product slows PSA doubling time in prostate cancer patient

Several years ago (2006 to be precise) it was reported — by Mori et al. and by Sánchez et al. — that capsaicin (the strong-smelling, active component of chili peppers) was able to kill prostate cancer cells in mouse-based cell cultures.

In an article published in February, Jankovic et al. have described what they claim to be “the first case” of PSA stabilization in a patient with prostate cancer, who had biochemical failure after radiation therapy. The stabilization appears to have been a consequence of treatment with capsaicin.

The patient in question was a 66-year-old man with clinical stage T2b prostate cancer (Gleason score 3 + 4 = 7). When he first presented in April 2001, with a PSA of 13.3, he was treated with 3D conformal radiation therapy to the prostate and the pelvis, followed by a prostate-specific radiation “boost.”

Radiation therapy was completed in May 2001, and by January 2002 his PSA had dropped to a nadir level of 0.57 ng/ml. However, his PSA gradually started to rise again, and in July 2005, when the PSA level had reached 38.5 ng/ml, he was treated with bicalutamide and leuprolide acetate (“total” or “maximal” androgen deprivation therapy). The patient did not tolerate androgen ablation well and so he discontinued treatment, deciding to start taking 2.5 ml of habañeros chili sauce, containing capsaicin, 1 to 2 times a week, starting in April 2006, with the following consequences:

  • His PSA doubling time increased from 4 weeks (before capsaicin treatment) to 7.3 months between April and October 2006.
  • Between October 2006 and November 2007, he stayed on capsaicin (at 2.5 to 15 ml daily) and his PSA was stable (between 11 to 14 ng/ml).
  • Between November 2007 and  January 2008, his PSA rose to 22.3 ng/ml and he has subsequently has maintained a PSA doubling time between 4 and 5 months.

Because of the patient’s continued PSA rise, he has been restarted on bicalutamide (12.5 mg daily). However, he is still free of all signs or symptoms of recurrence of his prostate cancer — with the exception of the rise in his PSA.

Now The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink is not recommending that every man with progressive prostate cancer rushes out to the supermarket and starts downing large amounts of habañeros sauce on a daily basis, but … It certainly does appear that capsaicin does something that may impact the rate of growth of prostate cancer cells in at least some men, which leads one to wonder whether it may really be possible to develop some form of capsaicin derivative as a drug that can be used to delay the growth of prostate cancer prior to the need to initiate hormone therapy.

15 Responses

  1. As I’ve said about this one before, I love peppers …. I can’t get enough of them. I did get enough prostate cancer, however.

    We had a guy at a website swearing that his prostate cancer was cured by eating pepper supplements while posting the study at UCLA/Cedars Sinai showing mice having a slowed progression. I understand that capsaicin induce apoptosis in prostate cancer. But it isn’t a cure. And the question remains, does a reduction in PSA progression mean anything at all as it pertains to survival of prostate cancer?

    I did read somewhere that capsaicin also inhibited the performance of chemotherapy, but I can’t find that article. Perhaps you can.

    In the mean time, I will continue to consume peppers, not to slow my prostate cancer, but because I like them ….

  2. What goes around, comes around.

    In 1997/8 there was a good deal of discussion on this subject, with reference to some European studies, between some very knowledgeable/scientifically based members of Don Cooley’s long-gone Forum.

    Between them they evolved a recipe for an ideal dose. Regrettably it proved not to be a universal panacea, as the principal author finally succumbed to his aggressive disease. On the other hand, one of the men who certainly started taking it regularly (can’t say if he still does) is alive and well.

  3. Mike,

    You mention: (1) “It certainly does appear that capsaicin does something that may impact the rate of growth of prostate cancer cells in at least some men ….”

    Is this conclusion based on (2) a study on mice and (3) a solitary case of a 66-year-old man who decides to try chili sauce to cure himself, or is there some further “evidence”? Putting it another way, I don’t see how (1) = (2) + (3).

  4. Dear Richard:

    Please don’t over-interpret something that I phrased with the greatest care. Perhaps I should state it again with additional emphasis:

    “It certainly does appear that capsaicin does something that may impact the rate of growth of prostate cancer cells in at least some men ….”

    My premise is only that (2) + (3) may equal (1), not that they do! To reach the conclusion that capsaicin or some drug derived therefrom has any real long-term value in the treatment of progressive prostate cancer would require a great deal more data. On the other hand, for those who like their habañeros chili sauce, it can’t hurt to know that there seems to be some potential for benefit.

  5. Mike, I can’t think of anyone in the field of PCa who I respect more than yourself — your knowledge, opinions and conclusions are without parallel on a wide range of research and practice areas. I mean that sincerely.

    But I can’t begin to see: “It certainly does appear that capsaicin does something that may impact the rate of growth of prostate cancer cells in at least some men ….”.

    “Some men” extrapolated from an anecdote about one guy?

  6. Richard:

    This is far from being the first “anecdote” (see Terry Herbert’s prior comment above). There have been many of those on and off over the years. What this is is the first scientific documentation of an apparent clinical effect in man (which is somewhat more than an anecdote). You asked me if there was other evidence. Answer … a resounding “No,” to date.

  7. Good day Men, thank you for the interesting discussion. Might I add that the inclusion of some chili peppers into the vegan / macrobiotic diet endorsed by Dr. Dean Ornish would certainly increase the flavor and enjoyment of some of the dishes. This diet seems to show some promise in (not only) the reversal of heart disease but also in the reversal of prostate cancer.

    I am going for a follow-up PSA 3 months after my first doubling of PSA from 1.18 to 3.00 and my first asymmetric DRE result. At age 56, I am willing to give anything that I can control a chance. And, this very healthy way of eating has made me feel better overall; more energy, etc.

    Any response would be appreciated. Keep smilin’.

  8. I’ve been eating habenero peppers off and on since the original study from Cedars-Sinai was published. There seems to be a correlation between taking and not taking the peppers and PSA rise and fall. This is in conjunction with standard of care medical treatment. (I was originally diagnosed with Stage IV, i.e., metastastatic, disease.)

    I have communicated with the original author twice over the years, but there does not seem to be any further interest in the medical research field yet.

  9. Still here — same status, 1+ year later; also, I’m 70, with no symptoms. I recently started to document in a laboratory notebook. Chopped fresh habaneros are taken with yogurt and milk.

  10. September 2014 — I had prostate cancer (Gleason 8), spreading out of the organ in 2003. My doctor said I had little time left. I knew nothing about peppers and prostate cancer, but by pure chance I started eating habaneros about that time. I had surgery, then 3 years later, radiation; PSA began to rise again a year after surgery. All through the last 11 years, my pepper habit was increasing, and I now eat ghost peppers. I didn’t learn that capsaicin affects prostate cancer until summer of 2013. I am still here and, as my physician’s assistant told me once, “You are the healthiest person I am going to see today”

    I don’t know if habaneros and ghost peppers are keeping me alive, but I do know I have beaten the odds many times over. It may not be a cure, but delay of death is a wonderful thing!

  11. Hi,

    My husband was given a PSA level of 93. We are very shocked. I was told that chili sauce twice a week can help him. I have been reading the previous articles about ghost peppers. :~) What are these? If anybody has some other natural remedies to share … we would truly appreciate it.



  12. Dear Mary:

    A man who is diagnosed with a PSA of 93 ng/ml is rarely going to do well on “natural” therapies of any type alone. Your husband is almost certainly going to need some form of androgen deprivation therapy (ADT, also known as “hormone” therapy) to manage a diagnosis like this.

    Is it possible that some sort of hot sauce that contains capsaicin (e.g., habaneros sauce) might help? Well yes, it is possible … but I wouldn’t want to place much of a bet on this.

    Here is a link to some information about bhut jolokia or “ghost peppers” — but I don’t know if these contain capsaicin, which is the element in hot peppers that have been thought by some people to have some possible value in the management of prostate cancer.

  13. I agree with Sitemaster. Capsaicin is not a cure but might prolong the life. I still have cancer, but it has been going slower than the doctors thought it would. I eat loads of peppers and have for years. Unless your husband is used to eating very, very, very, hot peppers, stay away from ghost peppers.

  14. I love hot peppers. Sometimes I eat yellow hot on an empty stomach with bread. Not good?

    My PSA was 24. The doctor says I have cancer. MRI score was bad — a 4. Biopsy showed none at all. The Spanish have a low rates of cancer but they also eat a lot of fish and don’t go to the doctor. Hot peppers are addictive and these fast food places have their head in the sand.

  15. Hans:

    There are other reasons why you might have a PSA of 24 ng/ml and a PI-RADS score of 4 on MRI. Whether these data have anything to do with eating hot peppers or not is not well established. However. if I was you I would go get a second opinion from a really experienced urologist at a major prostate cancer. Even if you don’t have prostate cancer, you might have other problems that haven’t been identified yet!

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