Cayenne pepper, scientifically known as capsicum annuum or frutescens, has not only been used as an herb in food for nearly 9,000 years, but also as a medicinal agent. As an important spice used commonly in Cajun and Creole cooking, cayenne pepper can be found in the cuisines of China, Southern Italy, Southeast Asia, and Mexico. It has been used therapeutically in traditional Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Korean medicines as an oral solution for poor appetite, stomach, and circulatory problems.
Extensive scientific research has led to the verification of cayenne’s therapeutic properties and positive health benefits. A few cayenne pepper remedies include:
The most active ingredient in cayenne, capsaicin, is known for its potent pain-relieving properties when used on the skin. The spicy and hot taste you experience from cayenne pepper 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 like cayenne artificially release substance P, your nervous system thinks that there is an injury and a burning pain results. Administration of cayenne 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, for cancer or hernia repair
- Nerve damage pain that occurs in the legs or feet as a complication of diabetes, known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy
- Low back pain: A study completed in Ontario, Canada in 2006 showed that participants using Capsicum Frutescens, or cayenne ointment felt a significant reduction in low back pain compared to participants who were given a placebo.
Capsaicin cream has also been used to lessen itching and inflammation from psoriasis. Psoriasis is a long-term skin condition that is characterized by patches of raised red skin concealed by a white flaky buildup of skin. The University of Michigan Medical School conducted a study in 1993 that evaluated the use of a topical capsaicin cream for psoriasis in 200 patients, over a 6-week period. The participants who received the capsaicin cream saw significant improvement in itching and general severity of psoriasis compared to those who were given a placebo.
For thousands of years, cayenne has been used orally as means for reducing pain caused from minor indigestion, known as dyspepsia. At first glance, you may feel that this is an odd use of the herb, as it seems that hot peppers would be harsh on the stomach lining. Conversely, it is important to remember that hot peppers like cayenne do not damage tissues, but merely generate sensations similar to those caused by actual harm. Depleting substance P in the stomach helps to reduce sensations of discomfort caused by indigestion.
The National University Hospital in Singapore completed a study analyzing capsaicin’s protective effect against gastric injury, such as ulcers, as the effect was only previously identified in rats. The results exhibited that oral use of capsaicin helps to protect the stomach against ulcers triggered by anti-inflammatory drugs.
It is important to note that when using capsaicin cream, an unpleasant burning sensation will occur during the first few applications to the skin. This burning sensation will dissipate over subsequent days of treatment. Talk to an expert to see if cayenne or capsaicin creams would be efficacious for you to treat any of these conditions. If you are using an over-the-counter capsaicin cream, make sure to use it as directed. If the burning sensation you feel after the first few administrations is too severe, it may be helpful to initially use milder forms of the cream.
As extensive research has been conducted to determine the therapeutic effects of a cayenne pepper diet, it can be concluded that it indeed has substantial benefits for pain management caused by several conditions, psoriasis, and stomach ailments. Current research is underway to evaluate even more clinical uses for cayenne such as its role in weight loss, ear infections, and treatment of circulatory problems. Despite the initial burning sensation you may experience from using cayenne, it seems that the health benefits strongly outweigh this sensation.