Capsaicin, the active ingredient found in cayenne peppers, may have pain-relieving properties, according to a systematic review of topical capsaicin for the treatment of chronic pain published in the BMJ.
The researchers concluded that despite only moderate efficacy of capsaicin in the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal or neuropathic pain, it "may be useful as an adjunct or sole therapy for a small number of patients who are unresponsive to, or intolerant of, other treatments."1
In addition, research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that the application of capsaicin cream among cancersurvivors with postsurgical neuropathic pain can reduce postsurgical neuropathic pain and, "despite some toxicities, is preferred by patients over a placebo by a three-to-one margin among those expressing a preference."2
Capsaicin has also been shown to reduce the amount of substance P, a chemical that carries pain messages to the brain. With less substance P, fewer pain messages reach the brain and less pain is felt.3
Creams or ointments containing 0.025-0.075%-purified capsaicin have been shown in several double-blind studies to reduce the pain and tenderness caused by osteoarthritis. The suggested use for chronic pain is to apply the topical cream or ointment four times daily to the site of pain.
Animal studies have also shown a decrease in pain when taking capsaicin orally or by injection.4
Capsaicin is currently used in topical ointments and creams to relieve pain and tenderness from osteoarthritis, nerve pain from shingles, pain after surgery, pain from diabetic neuropathy and lower back pain.
There are many products that claim that cayenne pepper can boost metabolism and promote weight loss; however, not all scientific studies agree. Researchers at Purdue University found that cayenne pepper consumption increased core body temperature slightly, which would in turn burn calories.5,6
Modest reductions in appetite were found in another study after the ingestion of 10 g of cayenne pepper (a large dose that would need to be repeated at each meal). No follow-up studies have been carried out to show whether these small effects result in weight loss.
The results of the research revealed that those who mixed cayenne pepper with their food burned an additional 10 calories 4 hours after eating their meal compared with those who did not add cayenne.
Many studies have looked at cayenne or capsaicin combined with other ingredients, so the ingredient responsible for results cannot be differentiated. More research is needed before cayenne or capsaicin is used as a weight-loss supplement.
On the next page, we look at further health benefits linked with cayenne pepper, ways to incorporate more cayenne pepper into your diet and a number of precautions for using cayenne pepper.
A double-blind study that evaluated the topical application of capsaicin in treating psoriasis revealed that it can significantly improve itching and other symptoms associated with psoriasis.
The research, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, concluded that "topically applied capsaicin effectively treats pruritic psoriasis."7
Care should be taken to avoid areas of broken or healing skin, as capsaicin may cause a burning sensation.
Topical application of capsaicin may help treat cluster headaches.
A study published in Cephalalgia found that capsaicin can desensitize sensory neurons by depleting the nerve terminals of substance P - a neuropeptide associated with inflammatory processes and pain.
The authors of the study concluded: "these results indicate that intranasal capsaicin may provide a new therapeutic option for the treatment of this disease."
Cayenne pepper is often used as a home remedy for coughs, colds and congestion. Although there are no studies to support this use, cayenne may help to temporarily relieve congestion by shrinking the blood vessels in the nose and throat.9
One popular home recipe combines 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons of water to take by the teaspoon. Other people mix cayenne pepper and apple cider vinegar into a hot tea to clear the sinuses.
Cayenne is an extremely versatile spice that can be added to everything from fish to eggs, soups, casseroles, tacos and pasta.
Cayenne pepper is commonly used in combination with lemon juice and water for detox diets.
Capsaicin cream should not be applied to open wounds or broken skin. It is not recommended to give to children under 2 years of age.
Capsaicin capsules may cause stomach irritation and increase stomach acid. People with ulcers or heartburn should talk to their health care provider before using capsaicin. Take caution if deciding to use a supplement containing capsaicin. Supplements are not regulated and may or may not contain what they claim.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
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