Pepper Alkaloids and Processed Meat Intake: Results from a Randomized Trial and the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Cohort

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2021 Apr;65(7):e2001141. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.202001141. Epub 2021 Mar 2.


Scope: Processed meat intake has been associated with adverse health outcomes. However, little is known about the type of processed meat more particularly responsible for these effects. This study aims to identify novel biomarkers for processed meat intake.

Methods and results: In a controlled randomized cross-over dietary intervention study, 12 healthy volunteers consume different processed and non-processed meats for 3 consecutive days each. Metabolomics analyses are applied on post-intervention fasting blood and urine samples to identify discriminating molecular features of processed meat intake. Nine and five pepper alkaloid metabolites, including piperine, are identified as major discriminants of salami intake in urine and plasma, respectively. The associations with processed meat intake are tested for replication in a cross-sectional study (n = 418) embedded within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort. Three of the serum metabolites including piperine are associated with habitual intake of sausages and to a lesser extent of total processed meat.

Conclusion: Pepper alkaloids are major discriminants of intake for sausages that contain high levels of pepper used as ingredient. Further work is needed to assess if pepper alkaloids in combination with other metabolites may serve as biomarkers of processed meat intake.

Keywords: biomarkers of intake; metabolomics; pepper alkaloids; piperine; processed meat.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / blood*
  • Alkaloids / urine*
  • Benzodioxoles / blood
  • Benzodioxoles / urine
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Food Handling
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat*
  • Metabolomics / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Piper nigrum / chemistry*
  • Piperidines / blood
  • Piperidines / urine
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides / blood
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides / urine


  • Alkaloids
  • Benzodioxoles
  • Piperidines
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • piperine