Are you a fan of spicy food? Good news! Capsaicin, the powerful ingredient that puts the spicy hot in cayenne and chili peppers, is actually good for your health.
How Hot Is Hot?
A pepper’s level of heat is usually rated by units on a Scoville scale. The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains.
The healing properties of capsaicin have been utilized for more than 9,000 years by Native Americans. Although we currently use cayenne primarily as a culinary flavoring, dietary cleanses and modern research report its vast health benefits. Cayenne is rich in beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A to bolster immune function. It is also a rich source of antioxidant vitamin C, and other essential nutrients.
Topical analgesic products containing capsaicin are available for external use in cream, ointment, stick, pad, gel, liquid and lotion. Follow instructions on the package label.
6 Health Benefits of Capsaicin
Capsaicin (pronounced cap-say-sin) goes by many names: cayenne pepper, hot pepper, red pepper, ancho pepper, African pepper, Tabasco pepper, and Louisiana long pepper, and has many health benefits:
- Pain Reliever. Capsaicin helps relieve joint and muscle pain, and nerve pain associated with diabetic neuropathy and arthritis. Topical applications of capsaicin products relieve pain by diminishing the amount of substance P at nerve endings. Substance P is a neurotransmitter which causes the sensation of pain at nerve endings and transmits pain signals to the brain.
- Lowers blood sugar. It is used in the treatment of diabetes to normalize glucose levels.
- Improves circulation. It is used in conjunction with other natural remedies as a treatment for varicose veins (spider veins) in the legs. Topical products containing capsaicin may be applied to the legs as directed.
- Suppresses appetite and boosts metabolism by producing heat in the body. Ever find yourself sweating after that spicy bowl of chili? That’s your revved metabolism. Capsaicin helps the body burn fat for energy production, and is thus highly valued for promoting weight loss. Cayenne is beneficial in weight loss and detoxing beverages.
- Wards off colds and sinus infections. Cayenne expels mucous in the body when sick with a cold or sinus infection. Stir a dash of cayenne into a glass of water with lemon juice. Drink to break up mucous and to relieve a sore throat.
- Aids digestion and is good for the stomach as it assists in saliva production. It also stops diarrhea and bleeding from ulcers.
Fun Fact: To cool your mouth from the heat of spice, reach for a glass of milk, yogurt, or a piece of bread.
Things To Consider When Enjoying Hot Peppers
- When preparing hot peppers, it is best to wear gloves. Be careful not to put your hands near your eyes when working with hot peppers.
- Cayenne is also available in capsules, tinctures, extracts and powder. Ground cayenne pepper can be sprinkled on your foods or added to beverages daily. Cayenne sold in most grocery stores has been irradiated, making them ineffective for therapeutic use — for optimal health and nutritional benefits, purchase organic, non-irradiated cayenne powder.
- Peppers, both hot and sweet, are members of the nightshade family. Some people have sensitivities to nightshade vegetables. If you suspect a food allergy or sensitivity, discuss it with your health care provider.
So bring on the spicy peppers for their powerful flavor and health benefits. What’s your favorite way to enjoy the heat?
Deborah Tukua is a natural living, healthy lifestyle writer and author of 7 non-fiction books, including Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. She has been a writer for the Farmers' Almanac since 2004.