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About two years ago, my colleague, Jenny Smiechowski, wrote about some research on the benefits of eating hot chili peppers.
I, unfortunately, am not one who can tolerate them.
But Jenny presented some convincing research on the potential health benefits of one natural ingredient in those peppers.
Those benefits include reduced stroke and heart attack risk, lower cholesterol, and the control of chronic inflammation.
And, combined with another spice, the active ingredient that gives chili peppers their burn is a proven cancer-fighter.
Now, I’ve uncovered even more interesting research that might encourage you to give those hot peppers a try. (Just have a glass of milk handy to wash them down).
Capsaicin: A natural pain killer
Capsaicin (pronounced cap-say-sin) is a natural compound found in spicy peppers. It has no nutritional value on its own but is well known for its pain-killing power.
That power comes from its ability to activate receptors on our neurons called TRPV1 receptors. These receptors are so sensitive to capsaicin that they’re often called “capsaicin receptors.”
Once those receptors are activated, they release a neurotransmitter that works to block the sensation of pain.
There have been many clinical studies on the use of capsaicin for pain relief. For example, a study at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio saw patients with rheumatoid arthritis experience a 57 percent reduction, while the pain of those with osteoarthritis was reduced by 33 percent.
People with arthritis and similarly painful conditions usually apply capsaicin cream to the painful areas of the body. But it’s also available in a high-dose patch.
Anthony Dickenson, the co-author of a study on capsaicin and how it works to relieve pain, says that the patch “makes the pain-sensing nerve endings pull back from the application site – sort of escaping the insult – and this can lead to several weeks of pain relief.”
Other proven benefits of capsaicin
But capsaicin isn’t just a pain reliever. Here are other research-based benefits of capsaicin:
- Capsaicin has been known to induce apoptosis (cell death) in prostate cancer cells
- In animal studies, capsaicin had anti-inflammatory effects on gastritis (stomach infection), which suggested it may also combat stomach cancer.
- In one study, applying capsaicin to nasal membranes reduced the frequency of cluster headaches
- In another study, capsaicin cream significantly reduced skin outbreaks in patients with psoriasis.
- Several animal studies have shown that capsaicin can relax blood vessels and reduce blood pressure.
How to get the benefits of capsaicin
If you want to get the health or pain-relief benefits of capsaicin, but just can’t imagine yourself biting into a chili pepper, don’t worry.
For pain relief, as mentioned earlier, you can use either capsaicin cream or a long-acting patch. Just follow directions about how and where you can apply these.
For other purposes, there are capsaicin capsules. They are swallowed like most capsules and have no hot taste or sensation.
My own experience
I’ve told you about my experience living with trigeminal neuralgia, often called the “suicide disease” because of the devastating and unrelenting nature of the pain it causes.
Just to demonstrate the pain-killing power of capsaicin, let me end with a link to a video by Dr. Hugh Spencer, an Australian neurobiologist who suffers from trigeminal neuralgia
In this video, Dr. Spencer explains how he used capsaicin oil to eliminate the crushing nerve pain he was experiencing.
- Why spicy food makes your nose run — and why it’s great for you — Time
- Treatment of arthritis with topical capsaicin: a double-blind trial — Clinical Therapeutics
- Capsaicin, a component of red peppers, inhibits the growth of androgen-independent, p53 mutant prostate cancer cells — Cancer Research
- Beneficial effect of capsaicin application to the nasal mucosa in cluster headache — The Clinical Journal of Pain
- Activation of TRPV1 by dietary capsaicin improves endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation and prevents hypertension — Cell Metabolism