In this article:
- Cayenne pepper, also called red hot chili peppers, are spicy due to its high content of capsaicinoids.
- Cayenne peppers can enhance the flavor and color of your dishes and can also provide a range of health-promoting nutrients.
- Cayenne pepper is credited with a number of health benefits, such as strengthening the joints and muscles, promoting weight loss, and treating colds and cough, to name a few.
- Cayenne pepper should be eaten in moderation, or else this fiery ingredient could trigger undesirable side effects, such as gastric-related problems and skin irritation.
Cayenne peppers, also known as red hot chili peppers, are widely known and utilized peppers that originally were harvested from South and Central America. Today, they are also farmed in multiple tropical areas.
Cayenne peppers come in a wide variety of colors and shapes. Some peppers are long with a curved tip, whereas some are short and straight.
The variations in color help identify how high they score on the Scoville Scale, which measures the pungency of peppers. Red and yellow cayenne peppers tend to score higher than the young green ones.
These peppers are often utilized as colorants and flavorants due to their bold colors and pungency. They can be used fresh, dried, or fermented or as an oleoresin extract. (1)
Despite their fiery heat, and the low spice tolerance of many, cayenne peppers have become a topic of interest due to their nutritional and nutraceutical properties. (1)
Their beneficial effects are also partially related to their vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content.
Cayenne Pepper Plant and Fruit
The term “cayenne pepper” refers to the fruit of the off-white flower it stems from. The cayenne pepper itself is bright red with a cone shape, but much smaller and thinner than a bell pepper.
The internal seeds are not the only part of the pepper that contributes to the heat it produces. The pepper in itself is hot due to the presence of capsaicinoids.
Nutritional Value of Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper contains several vitamins and minerals that are anti-inflammatory in nature, such as:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin E
Hundred grams of fresh cayenne pepper yields 76.4 mg of vitamin C, which is 127% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA).
Vitamin C holds the health-benefiting properties. It boosts immunity by resisting infectious agents and scavenging pro-inflammatory radicals produced by chronic illness.
Vitamin C is a vital nutrient for collagen synthesis. Collagen is a structural protein that is essential for wound healing and maintains the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones.
Cayenne peppers can add flavor and color to dishes while providing a variety of nutrients to promote health.
100 grams of cayenne pepper contains: (2)
|Protein||12.01||g||Vitamin A, RAE||2081||µg|
|Total lipid (fat)||17.27||g||Carotene, beta||21840||µg|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||56.63||g||Vitamin A, IU||41610||IU|
|Fiber, total dietary||27.2||g||Lutein + zeaxanthin||13157||µg|
|Sugars, total including NLEA||10.34||g||Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)||29.83||mg|
|Calcium, Ca||148||mg||Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||80.3||µg|
|Iron, Fe||7.8||mg||Fatty acids, total saturated||3.26||g|
|Potassium, K||2014||mg||Fatty acids, total monounsaturated||2.75||g|
|Copper, Cu||0.373||mg||Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated||8.37||g|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||76.4||mg||Phytosterols||83||mg|
|Vitamin B6||2.45||mg||Vitamin A, RAE||2081||µg|
|Folate, total||106||µg||Carotene, beta||21840||µg|
Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper
Here are some of the health benefits you can enjoy from cayenne pepper.
1. Reduces Joint and Muscle Pain
Capsaicin is derived from the fruit to produce capsaicin cream. This pain-relieving ointment is found to help treat arthritis-related pain and musculoskeletal pain. Its pain-reducing property penetrates deep into the joints such as the back, hips, and shoulders.
Multiple studies have found favor on capsaicin cream for pain treatment. (5)
One study demonstrated the effectivity of capsaicin against chronic soft tissue pain and chronic back pain. It has also been noted that low concentrations of capsaicin produces effective pain relief but require daily self-administration. (3)(4)
Capsaicin cream is thought to naturally reduce pain and inflammation but also work via the following actions:
- Creating the sensation of heat to distract you from the pain
- Interferes with your brain’s ability to sense pain by reducing the level of the neurotransmitters that bind with pain receptors
How to obtain and apply capsaicin cream:
- Purchase an over-the-counter capsaicin ointment.
- To prepare a homemade cream, mix ½ teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper and 2-3 teaspoons warm olive or coconut oil.
- Apply the cream over the point of pain and let sit for 20 minutes. Rinse it off.
- Repeat the application daily until the pain has improved.
Note: Capsaicin cream can cause a burning sensation on the skin. If you experience this reaction, wash your skin immediately. Also, never apply capsaicin cream over broken or irritated skin.
Cayenne pepper effectively treats pain by interfering with the perception of pain signals. Despite many studies showing such benefits of capsaicin cream on pain, more research is warranted to establish such findings further.
2. Supports Weight Loss
Such benefits include:
- Decreased appetite
- Enhanced fat oxidation (6)(7)
- Satiety (9)
- Increased energy expenditure (9)
- Good digestion and enhanced absorption of nutrients that help maintain a healthy weight
Note that one study did find that cravings for sweets increased with cayenne pepper intake. Thus, despite some research showing promotion of weight loss, the increased cravings for sweets may be a challenge. (9)
How to Use:
Incorporate cayenne pepper into your weight loss journey by seasoning your vegetables with cayenne pepper and adding this herb to marinades for meat dishes.
Research indicates that cayenne pepper promotes weight loss by reducing appetite and increasing energy expenditure. However, long-term placebo-controlled randomized trials with higher doses are necessary to analyze further how effective cayenne can be for long-term weight management.
3. Fights the Common Cold and Congestion
Cayenne pepper can provide relief from symptoms related to the common cold or flu, specifically congestion. As cayenne pepper stimulates secretion, that help in clearing mucus from the air passageways, it can provide relief from nasal congestion or sinus pressure.
Capsaicin was also found to yield better results than budesonide, which is a common decongestant. (11)
It is important to note that the studies completed used very high doses of cayenne pepper that did cause irritation. More research is necessary to determine what doses of capsaicin are safe without adverse effects.
How to Use:
Consider adding cayenne pepper to your soup or tea when trying to recover from cold-like symptoms.
Cayenne peppers may provide relief from nasal congestion, inflammatory pain, and pressure. However, more research is warranted to analyze the potential side effects of cayenne pepper.
4. Provides Relief from Burning Mouth Syndrome
Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is a chronic and intractable pain condition that leads to a burning sensation of the oral cavity without any presence of lesions.
It affects 1.5%-5.5% of middle-aged and older women, which is the most commonly affected population of this condition. (12)
Dry mouth and altered taste are common with BMS. Cayenne pepper can help alleviate the pain in the oral cavity by:
- Numbing the nerve endings in the oral cavity
- Increasing saliva production
One study found that a topical capsaicin oral rinse helped improve the symptoms of BMS but with some limitations. (13)
Another study showed that topical capsaicin provided short-term relief from the symptoms of BMS. However, more research is indicated to determine its long-term effects on the gastrointestinal system, and what doses are appropriate. (14)
Although studies suggest that by stimulating the production of saliva, cayenne pepper may provide relief from the pain symptoms related to BMS, further research with larger sample sizes and longer time frames are warranted to determine the herb’s long-term effects.
Other Purported Benefits of Cayenne Pepper
1. May Prevent Blood Clot Formation
Capsaicin has antioxidant properties that help promote proper blood flow to nourish the body. A 2018 review revealed that it also has clot-dissolving potential, which further decreases the risk of blood clots and heart-related conditions. (15)
2. May Help Prevent Cancer
Cayenne pepper is thought to have some properties to prevent the following cancers:
Capsaicin can cause cancer cells to undergo a process called apoptosis, which is the death of a cell. More studies regarding the dosage and consistency of capsaicin use would be beneficial to solidify such benefits. (16)
3. May Reduce the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
As cayenne pepper promotes proper blood flow and circulation, it can contribute to the efficient distribution of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.
Capsaicin may also have favorable effects on the components of what is called metabolic syndrome, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. (17)
Metabolic syndrome can include the following:
- High triglycerides
- Elevated blood glucose
- Elevated blood pressure
- Low HDL cholesterol
- Large waist to hip ratio
Further research is warranted to confirm the desirable effects capsaicin may have on cardiovascular disease prevention. (17)
4. Provides Relief from Migraines
Topical capsaicin cream has been found in small studies to relieve arterial pain in patients not experiencing an attack and in those experiencing mild to moderate migraines. (18)
More active capsaicinoids may be analyzed in the future to determine their potential as a standard treatment for migraines.
Note: Taking oral cayenne pepper or other spices may actually trigger a migraine in some people.
5. May Promote Hair Growth
One study found that the administration of capsaicin with isoflavone may help promote hair growth by increasing IGF-1 production in the hair follicles. Much more research would be warranted to investigate such findings further. (19)
Medical Uses of Cayenne Pepper
The medical community has found several uses of cayenne pepper and its active component capsaicin:
- Topical analgesic: Relieves pain related to shingles, diabetic neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and psoriasis by desensitizing local nerves
- Diaphoretic: Promotes sweating
- Sialagogue: Increases saliva production
- Rubefacient: Increases surface blood flow when applied to the skin
- Self-defense: Is the active ingredient in pepper spray
Are Cayenne Peppers Hot?
The Scoville Scale measures the pungency of various peppers and compares it to the pungency of pure capsaicin, which is the compound in peppers that gives the degree of pungency.
Pure capsaicin is at the maximum height of the chart with a score of 15 million-16 million Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
As indicated by the chart, cayenne peppers score moderately high on the Scoville Scale at 30,000-50,000 SHU. In comparison with other chilies, cayenne peppers score higher than jalapeños and poblano peppers. (20)
Cayenne peppers are very pungent, so you may need to use them in small amounts.
Selection and Storage of Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne peppers typically start out green. As they ripen, they are most commonly red but can also be yellow, orange, brown, or white.
You can tell that they are ready to pick if the length of the pods is 4-6 inches long. To best preserve cayenne pepper, they should be stored in a refrigerated area until ready to consume.
Varieties of Cayenne Peppers
A wide variety of cayenne peppers are available, including the following:
- Cayenne Sweet
- Cayenne Thomas Jefferson
- Joe’s Long
- Cayenne Buist’s Yellow
- NuMex Las Cruces Cayenne
- Ring of Fire
- Cayenne Turkish
- Golden Cayenne
- Cayenne Violet
- Cayenne Carolina
- Cayenne Indonesian
- Cayenne Large Red Thick
- Cayenne Passion
- Cayenne Iberian
- Egyptian Cayenne
- Cayenne Long Thick Red
Side Effects and Toxicity
Excessive consumption of cayenne pepper and capsaicin could lead to undesirable side effects such as:
- Acute gastritis
- Hemorrhagic gastritis
- Skin irritation or urticaria in rare cases
It is best to take the following precautions when using cayenne pepper:
- Do not allow cayenne to touch mucous membranes such as your eyes.
- Do not use cayenne if you have any of the following:
- Active gastritis
- Duodenal ulcer
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Consult a healthcare provider if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Do not give cayenne pepper to children under two years of age.
- You may use topical capsaicin cream for older children but not for more than 2 days in a row.
- Be aware that those with allergies to latex, bananas, kiwis, chestnuts, or avocado may also have a cayenne allergy.
Warning and Safety Measures
Be aware of these measures when using cayenne pepper or its active ingredient capsaicin:
- Do not use capsaicin cream on children under 2 years of age.
- Wash your hands after applying capsaicin cream.
- Do not take a hot shower before or after capsaicin use.
- Always consult a doctor before taking a capsaicin supplement.
- Consult your doctor if cayenne pepper causes stomach irritation or heartburn.
- Store fresh cayenne pepper in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Store dry cayenne pepper powder in an airtight container in a cool place.
- Cold yogurt or dairy can relieve the burning sensation from the consumption of cayenne pepper.
Possible Drug Interactions with Cayenne Pepper
1. Stomach Acid Reducers
Medications used to help manage gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as acid reflux, can become less effective if taken with capsaicin. These medications work to decrease the stomach acid level, whereas capsaicin increases it.
Capsaicin may lessen the effectivity of the following drugs:
- Famotidine (Pepcid)
- Ranitidine (Zantac)
- Omeprazole (Prilosec)
- Esomeprazole (Nexium)
This pharmaceutical drug is a bronchodilator. It is used to treat breathing conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Regular use of cayenne pepper while taking theophylline can increase the absorption of theophylline, which may lead to toxicity.
3. ACE Inhibitors
ACE inhibitors are commonly used to treat high blood pressure. One of the common side effects of ACE inhibitors is the development of a cough, which is also a risk associated with capsaicin cream.
Common ACE inhibitors include:
- Lisinopril (Zestril)
- Fosinopril (Monopril)
- Enalapril (Vasotec)
- Captopril (Capoten)
4. Aspirin and Blood Thinners
Capsaicin can decrease the effectiveness of aspirin as a pain reliever.
The use of blood-thinning agents, in conjunction with capsaicin, increases the risk of bleeding. Such blood-thinning agents to be aware of include:
- Warfarin (Coumadin)
- Clopidogrel (Plavix)
- Herbs: ginkgo, ginger, ginseng, garlic
5. Medications for Diabetes
Insulin and oral antihyperglycemic agents are used to manage diabetes. Capsaicin also lowers blood sugar levels. Hence, taking capsaicin with medication for diabetes increases your risk of hypoglycemia.
Consult your doctor before using capsaicin if you have diabetes.
Can black pepper and cayenne pepper be used as each other’s substitutes?
Black pepper and cayenne pepper are utilized to provide heat to some degree. However, they are not equally pungent and have widely different flavors.
Does cayenne pepper essential oil provide relief to patients with arthritis?
Cayenne pepper essential oil does contain capsaicin, which has an analgesic effect. This can provide short-term relief from arthritis pain by interfering with pain signals.
Is cayenne pepper ketogenic diet-friendly?
Cayenne pepper only contains 0.5g of net carbohydrate per teaspoon and contains healthy fats, making it a desirable ingredient to incorporate into the ketogenic diet.
Chili Powder Versus Cayenne Pepper
Chili powder and cayenne pepper are very similar in the sense that they both contain capsaicin.
The main difference is that chili powder includes a variety of other spices such as ground chili peppers, oregano, black pepper, and/or cumin. Cayenne pepper, on the other hand, is the purest form of chili powder with no additional ingredients.
Is Cayenne Pepper Approved for Topical Application?
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of capsaicin in over-the-counter products such as patches, creams, and ointments. Cayenne supplements are available as well but are not recommended without a doctor’s approval.
Also, the FDA reported cases of burns with the use of preparations containing capsaicin. (21)
How to Incorporate Cayenne Pepper in Dishes
- Flavor oils with cayenne pepper and then remove it to continue cooking. The longer cayenne pepper cooks, the hotter the dish will be. So, by flavoring the oil first with cayenne pepper and then removing it to cook the rest of the dish allows for a more tolerable flavor.
- Add cayenne peppers to marinades.
- Dried and ground cayenne pepper will remain shelf-stable for months. Add this seasoning to condiments, sauces, marinades, meat dishes, or even dark chocolate.
How to Make Cayenne Pepper Tea
Preparing cayenne pepper tea is simple and easy:
- Bring water nearly to a boil and immediately add ground cayenne pepper.
- Stir the mixture until the cayenne pepper has completely dissolved.
- You can promote steeping by putting on the lid of your mug for minutes before sipping.
- You can add other herbs such as ginger or turmeric into your tea to bring more flavor and health benefits.
Note: Cayenne pepper can cause a burning sensation in the throat. Sip slowly to increase enjoyment.
The nutritional density of cayenne pepper is a promising area of research. Topical creams have already been found effective, especially for alleviating muscle pains.
However, oral supplements are not recommended without consulting your doctor. Further research could help establish and promote the pharmaceutical applications of cayenne pepper.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Matthew Knight, LDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist)
Capsaicin is the biologically active substance that gives hot peppers like cayenne pepper their spice and is reported to have many health benefits.
One study investigated the effect of capsaicin consumption on the metabolism of healthy lean individuals. Results showed either no increase or a very small increase in metabolism over several hours after a meal that included capsaicin. (22)
Larger and longer-term studies are needed before it can be definitively said that cayenne pepper and its active component capsaicin boost metabolism.
Some studies also suggested that intake of capsaicin may help regulate factors that lead to weight loss, such as reduced appetite and better insulin regulation. (23)(24) More in-depth research is needed to determine a proper dosage of capsaicin that can assist with long-term weight loss.
Chili is a flavoring spice added to food by many cultures around the world. Chili powder is usually composed of ground and dried chili peppers combined with other spices, often including cumin, onion powder, and/or garlic powder.
Cayenne pepper refers to a specific variety of chili pepper that may be used to create chili powder or may be consumed alone in its dried form. Other varieties of chili pepper include jalapenos, ghost peppers, and habanero peppers.
There is no available answer to this question as no human studies have been done looking into cayenne pepper or capsaicin and its possible benefits for liver health.
It is generally recommended to avoid consuming spicy foods like cayenne pepper on an empty stomach.
Contrary to popular belief, capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper, has recently been found to reduce stomach acid production. (25) While cayenne pepper may not cause heartburn, it can still make symptoms worse in those who experience heartburn after meals.
Daily use of cayenne pepper, which is commonly added to foods in moderate amounts, is generally considered safe. If you are new to spicy foods and do not often consume cayenne pepper, then it is recommended to start with a small amount to increase your tolerance.
Possible side effects of daily use can include stomach pain, increased heartburn, and burning diarrhea. Do not consume cayenne pepper if you have acute gastritis, ulcers in your gastrointestinal tract, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as it may worsen the symptoms.
Several studies have suggested that capsaicin may lower blood pressure and improve circulation. (26) However, most of these studies were conducted on animals only. Further clinical trials are needed to determine how effective long-term consumption of cayenne pepper may be in lowering blood pressure.
If you are looking to include cayenne pepper in your diet, start small and increase as the spiciness becomes more tolerable over time. Also, talk to your healthcare provider before starting to supplement with cayenne pepper as it may interact with the medications you are taking.
Do not take cayenne pepper on an empty stomach. Stop using it if you experience stomach pain or increased heartburn. Always be sure to wash your hands after handling any spicy foods as capsaicin can be very irritating to your eyes.
About Matthew Knight RD, LDN: Matt is a registered dietitian whose approach to nutrition, health, and healing involves seeking out and treating the root cause of disease using the “food as medicine” model of practice.
Matt provides nutrition counseling and education to individuals suffering from many conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and digestive disorders. He writes about topics related to health and nutrition on his blog. Matt is currently living in the Chicago area.