Paprika is a spice ground from the pods of a variety of aromatic sweet red pepper (Capsicum annuum). Biologically active components of paprika include vitamin C, vitamin E and the carotenoids capsanthin, capsorubin, violaxanthin, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene and β-cryptoxanthin. Compared to hot chilli pepper, paprika contains only a small amount of capsaicin. Paprika also contains linoleic, linolenic, palmitic, myristic, and lauric acids. Paprika has been shown to have powerful antioxidant properties.
Cancer-related effects of eating paprika
Few studies have specifically addressed the impact of paprika in the diet. A combination of capsorubin and β-carotene, both found in paprika, has been found to significantly inhibit the growth of human prostate cancer cells. Another study found that zeaxanthin and capsanthin induced cell death in breast cancer and lymphoma cells and moderated multidrug resistance proteins that can be an important cause of eventual chemotherapy failure. Capsanthin and related paprika carotenoids have also been found to inhibit carcinogen-induced skin cancer in a mouse model.
Paprika is produced commercially in countries such as Spain, Peru, Brazil, the United States, Hungary, Turkey, China and Morocco. Hungarian cuisine uses paprika extensively (e.g., in goulash) and Hungarian varieties are considered to be of high quality. The majority of the paprika found on supermarket shelves in the U.S. is of Spanish origin. In addition to being used in food as a spice, paprika is used as a natural food coloring and the price of paprika depends in part on the richness of its color. Paprika should be checked for any signs of moisture, mold, odd discoloration or odor, and stored in a cool, dry, dark place for no more than six months before use.
There have been serious problems over the years with some paprika. In the mid-1990s, some Hungarian growers were found to have been adding lead oxide (a poisonous paint pigment) to improve the color of lower-grade paprika and increase its weight. This resulted in widespread lead poisoning and the deaths of some Hungarian consumers. Other substances such as white pepper, circumin, barium sulphate and brick powder have been used by unscrupulous dealers to increase the weight of paprika or change its color. Paprika was again pulled from the shelves in Hungary in 2004 when it was found to contain unacceptable levels on aflatoxin, a potent carcinogen produced by mold and known to cause liver cancer. Apparently, the local paprika had been mixed with less expensive (and contaminated) paprika imported from Spain and Brazil. In 2000, it was found that approximately 80 percent of the chilli products (including paprika) imported into Australia were contaminated with higher than allowable levels of aflatoxin. A 2008 study of Turkish paprika for export found aflatoxin in 19 of 23 samples, of which three were at levels exceeding the regulatory limits set by the European Union. Buyers of paprika from specialty markets should be aware of its source and assure themselves of its safety and quality.
Note that while we are continually searching for new evidence specifically concerning this food, there is not much interest in it among breast cancer researchers, so few studies are available.