The effect of dietary supplementation of spice-active principles, curcumin (0.2%), capsaicin (0.015%), and piperine (0.02%) on the activities of the liver drug-metabolizing enzyme system was examined. All the 3 dietary spice principles significantly stimulated the activity of aryl hydroxylase. A synergistic action of dietary curcumin and capsaicin with respect to stimulating the activity of aryl hydroxylase was also evidenced when fed in combination. The activity of N-demethylase essentially remained unaffected by dietary curcumin, capsaicin, or their combination, but was significantly lowered as a result of piperine feeding. Uridine dinucleotide phosphate (UDP)-glucuronyl transferase activity was decreased by dietary piperine and the combination of curcumin and capsaicin. NADPH-cytochrome c reductase activity was significantly decreased by dietary piperine. The levels of hepatic microsomal cytochrome P450 and cytochrome b5 were not influenced by any of the dietary spice-active principles. These spice-active principles were also examined for their possible in vitro influence on the components of the hepatic drug-metabolizing enzyme system in rat liver microsomal preparation. Piperine significantly decreased the activity of liver microsomal aryl hydroxylase activity when included in the assay medium at 1 x 10(-6) mol/L, 1 x 10(-5) mol/L, and 1x 10(-4) mol/L level. Lowered activity of N-demethylase was observed in presence of capsaicin or piperine at 1 x 10(-6) mol/L in the assay medium. Hepatic microsomal glucuronyl transferase activity was significantly decreased in vitro by addition of capsaicin or piperine. Capsaicin and piperine brought about significant decrease in liver microsomal cytochrome P450 when included at 1 x 10(-6) mol/L and 1 x 10(-5) mol/L, the effect being much higher in the case of piperine. The results suggested that whereas the 3 spice principles have considerable similarity in structure, piperine is exceptional in its influence on the liver drug-metabolizing enzyme system. The study also indicated that a combination of curcumin and capsaicin does not produce any significant additive effect on the liver drug-metabolizing enzyme system.