Chili peppers are the plants known to add a fiery sensation to your tongue, and maybe even a droplet of sweat or tears. But chili peppers happen to be associated with much more than just a pungent taste, as their therapeutic use has spanned for centuries. Prospective medicinal benefits of chili peppers have resulted in their perpetual use to cure diverse ailments. Research has identified their potential to aid with pain reduction, cancer, and type II diabetes prevention, as well as cardiovascular health.
Type II Diabetes
Frequent chili pepper intake has been shown to assist in reducing the risk of hyperinsulinemia, or an insulin overload. In 2006, the University of Tasmania in Australia published a study suggesting that the amount of insulin that is needed to lower blood sugar post-meal consumption is lessened if chili peppers are included in the meal. When chili peppers are consistently incorporated into meals over time, insulin requirements are reduced even further.
The most active ingredient in chili pepper, capsaicin, is known for its potent pain-relieving properties when used on the skin. The spicy and hot taste you experience is mainly due to capsaicin. When capsaicin is applied to the skin, it releases a chemical called substance P, which is commonly released in response to tissue damage or injury. When hot peppers artificially release substance P, the nervous system thinks that there is an injury and a burning pain results. Administration of capsaicin ointment over time causes a depletion of substance P, lessening the amount of pain in that location. Capsaicin is available in ointment and cream form. It has long been used for the following conditions:
- Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Joint or muscle pain due to fibromyalgia
- Nerve pain due to shingles and painful skin, known as post-herpetic neuralgia, which lingers after a shingles attack
- Pain after surgical procedures, such as for cancer or hernia repair
- Nerve damage pain: This type of pain occurs in the legs or feet as a complication of diabetes, known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Research completed in 2012 at the Helsinki University Central Hospital in Finland suggests that high-concentration capsaicin patches demonstrated meaningful efficacy and tolerability for patients suffering from neuropathic pain.
Research on red chili peppers has exhibited reduced blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Adding chili peppers to meals has been shown to demonstrate protective effects on the lipids, or fats, in blood from damage by free radicals, a principal step in the development of atherosclerosis. A Tasmanian study in 2006 suggested that eating fresh chopped chili pepper is associated with a decrease of substances that can cause inflammatory processes and damage, such as cholesterol and triglycerides, to oxidize and cause free radical damage. However, women experience a greater lag time in receiving benefits from consuming red chili peppers. Men on the chili diet experienced a reduced resting heart rate and increased volume of blood reaching the heart.
Research at the University of California at Los Angeles in 2006 found that capsaicin has a profound ability to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells through a variety of mechanisms. Capsaicin triggers cell death in two types of primary prostate cancer cell lines. This research indicates a potential therapeutic regimen for the management of prostate cancer. Further research is also being conducted to examine capsaicin and its potential association with a reduced risk of breast, colon, gastric, and rectal cancer.
Chili peppers, even when used in small quantities, can lead to long-term health benefits. When added to soups, chicken, beef, stir-fry, and other preparations, chili peppers can add a pungent flavor and a boost in your overall health. For those who cannot consume something spicy, try integrating them once a week in small quantities to slowly build a tolerance. With time, you will become more accustomed to the heat when consuming this spicy pepper.
The exact mechanisms in which chili peppers and capsaicin provide therapeutic benefits are still being researched. However, potential benefits of chili peppers for disorders such as weight loss, reduction of inflammation, sinus congestion relief, and antioxidant properties are promising.
By incorporating a little extra spice into your meals, there may be substantial health benefits. In this case the pain from chili peppers may lead to gain (in terms of health).
Written by Melissa Pillote
Ahuja, K.D., Robertson, I.K., Geraghty, D.P., & Ball, M.J. (2006). Effects of chili consumption on postprandial glucose, insulin, and energy metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr, 84(1), pp. 63-9.
(2014). Cayenne. Retrieved from http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21645#ref5
Wdowik, M. (2013 Sep 24). Enjoy the Health Benefits of Peppers. Retrieved from http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/columnnn/nn130924.html
Haanpaa, M. & Treede, R.D. (2012). Capsaicin for neuropathic pain: linking traditional medicine and molecular biology. Eur Neurol,68(5), pp. 264-75.
Ahuja, K.D.K. & Ball, M.J. (2006). Effects of daily ingestion of chili on serum lipoprotein oxidation in adult men and women. British Journal of Nutrition,96, pp. 239-242.
Mori, A., Lehmann, S., O’Kelly, J., Kumagai, T., Desmond, J.C., Pervan, M., McBride, W.H., Kizaki, M., & Koeffler, H.P. (2006). Capsaicin, a Component of Red Peppers, Inhibits the Growth of Androgen-Independent, p53 Mutant Prostate Cancer Cells. Cancer Res,66(6), pp. 3222-3229.