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Cayenne peppers, also known as red hot chili peppers, are widely known and utilized peppers that come in a wide variety of colors and shapes.
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.
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.
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 cream is thought to work via the following actions:
- Creates a sensation of heat to distract you from the pain
- Interferes with your brain’s ability to sense pain
Homemade capsaicin cream:
- Mix ½ teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper and 2–3 teaspoons of warm olive or coconut oil.
- Apply the cream over the point of pain and let sit for 20 minutes.
- Rinse it off.
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.
2. Supports weight loss
Such benefits include:
- Decreased appetite
- Enhanced fat oxidation (8)(9)
- Increased energy expenditure
- Good digestion and enhanced absorption of nutrients that help maintain a healthy weight
3. Fights the common cold and congestion
Cayenne pepper can provide relief from symptoms related to the common cold or flu, specifically congestion.
Cayenne pepper stimulates the secretion and clearing of mucus from the air passageways, thus providing relief from nasal congestion or sinus pressure. (11)
Capsaicin was also found to yield better results than budesonide, which is a common decongestant. (12) More research is necessary to determine what doses of capsaicin are safe without adverse effects.
How to use: Add cayenne pepper to your soup or tea.
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. (13)
Cayenne pepper can help alleviate the pain in the oral cavity by:
However, more research is needed to determine its long-term effects on the gastrointestinal system and what doses are appropriate.
Other Possible Benefits of Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper is suggested to have the following properties; however, further research is required to establish these effects:
1. May prevent blood clot formation
Capsaicin has antioxidant properties that help promote proper blood flow to nourish the body. A review revealed that it also has clot-dissolving potential, which further decreases the risk of blood clots and heart-related conditions. (16)
2. May help prevent cancer
Cayenne pepper is thought to have some properties to prevent lung, liver, prostate, breast, and skin cancers. Capsaicin can cause cancer cells to undergo a process called apoptosis, or cell death. (17)
3. May reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
Cayenne pepper promotes proper blood flow and circulation and may also have favorable effects on the components of metabolic syndrome, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. (18)
ALSO READ: 11 Spices and Herbs for Healthy Heart
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. (19)
Caution: 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. (20)
Nutritional Value of Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper contains several vitamins and minerals that are anti-inflammatory in nature, such as vitamins C, A, B6, and E, potassium, manganese, copper, iron, and flavonoids.
A hundred grams of fresh cayenne pepper yields: (1)
- 8.05 g water
- 318 kcal energy
- 12.01 g protein
- 17.27 g fat
- 56.63 g carbohydrates
- 27.2 g fiber
- 76.4 mg vitamin C
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
Cayenne Pepper in the Kitchen
You can incorporate cayenne pepper in your dishes by:
- Flavoring oils with cayenne pepper and then removing it to continue cooking
- Adding cayenne peppers to marinades
- Adding dried and ground cayenne pepper to condiments, sauces, marinades, meat dishes, or even dark chocolate
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 pepper to come in contact with mucous membranes such as your eyes.
- Do not use cayenne pepper if you have active gastritis, duodenal ulcer, diverticulitis, or irritable bowel syndrome.
- Be aware that those with allergies to latex, bananas, kiwis, chestnuts, or avocado may also have a cayenne allergy.
- Do not use capsaicin for 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.
- Store fresh cayenne pepper in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Store dry cayenne pepper powder in an airtight container in a cool place.
Possible Drug Interactions With Cayenne Pepper
It is best to consult your doctor before using cayenne as it can interact with several drugs.
1. Stomach acid reducers
Stomach acid reducers are medications used to help manage gastroesophageal reflux disease. They can become less effective if taken with capsaicin. These medications work to decrease the stomach acid level, whereas capsaicin increases it.
Theophylline is a bronchodilator. Regular use of cayenne pepper while taking this pharmaceutical drug can increase its absorption, 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.
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.
5. Medications for diabetes
Taking capsaicin with medications for diabetes increases your risk of hypoglycemia.
Most-Asked Questions About Cayenne Peppers
Are cayenne peppers hot?
The Scoville Scale measures the pungency of various peppers. 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. (21)
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.
Can cayenne pepper essential oil provide relief from 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 0.5 g of net carbohydrate per teaspoon and contains healthy fats, making it a desirable ingredient to incorporate into the ketogenic diet.
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. (22)
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Matthew Knight, LDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist)
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. (23)
Larger and longer-term studies are needed before it can be definitively said that cayenne pepper and its active component capsaicin boost metabolism.
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.
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.
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 on liver health.
It is generally recommended to avoid consuming spicy foods such as 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. (24)
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. Possible side effects of daily use can include stomach pain, increased heartburn, and burning diarrhea.
Several studies have suggested that capsaicin may lower blood pressure and improve circulation. (18) However, most of these studies were conducted on animals only.
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.