Capsaicin is the substance in chili peppers that gives them their heat,1 but capsaicin has a lot more to offer than just spicing up your meals. In fact, it’s a powerful natural pain reliever2 that’s been used to help control joint and muscle discomfort for centuries.3
Substance P is a chemical in your body that acts as a neurotransmitter, moving pain impulses along the synapses in your central nervous system. When substance P enters joint tissue, it causes inflammation and contributes to rheumatoid arthritis.
Capsaicin helps relieve pain by preventing the accumulation of Substance P in peripheral sensory neurons. When there’s less Substance P in your nerve endings, pain impulses aren’t transmitted to the brain. Essentially, capsaicin prevents your brain from receiving the impulses that would otherwise make you feel pain.
Capsaicin has been used for over 6000 years
Capsaicin was first isolated by John Clough Thresh. The exact chemical structure of capsaicin was determined by E. K. Nelson in 1919. It was synthesized by Ernst Spath and Stephen F. Darling in 1930.4
Although those technical advances are recent, chili peppers have been used in one way or another for over 6,000 years.5 The analgesic properties of chili peppers have been appreciated by cultures around the world. Native Americans, in particular, were known to rub their gums with chili pepper pods to relieve tooth pain.
Culinary applications are also common. Chili peppers were used as a weapon by the Incas against the Spaniards. In recent years, law enforcement has taken to using capsaicin-based pepper spray.6
9 surprising uses for capsaicin
Significant research has confirmed the impressive benefits of capsaicin. Medline lists almost 2900 research mentions of capsaicin in scientific literature published between 1991 and 1999 alone.
Although far from everything this compound has to offer, here are nine impressive health benefits of capsaicin you should know about…
A 1986 study found patients with moderate or severe psoriasis who applied topical capsaicin had significant less burning, stinging, itching, and redness of the skin over a six-week period.7
Capsaicin may help with atopic dermatitis.8
A 1991 study found capsaicin may be an effective remedy for arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis patients who received capsaicin cream for painful knees experienced mean reductions in pain of 57 percent and 33 percent, respectively, after 4 weeks.9
4. Back pain:
Capsaicin helps with chronic back pain.10
5. Soft tissue pain:
Capsaicin may relieve chronic soft tissue pain.11
6. Nerve pain:
Capsaicin may provide relief for neuropathic (nerve) pain.12,13
7. Prostate cancer:
Capsaicin may play a role in suppressing prostate cancer cells.14
8. Chemo side effects:
Oral capsaicin can provide pain relief for oral mucositis in patients undergoing chemotherapy.15
Capsaicin may help fight obesity by making you feel fuller so you end up eating less.16,17
Using capsaicin topically
Topical capsaicin products to alleviate sore muscles and joints have become more common.17 The compound is now being used in creams, lotions, gels, nasal sprays and patches.
When using a capsaicin ointment, a slight burning or itching sensation is typical but temporary. Wash your hands thoroughly after applying any topical capsaicin product to avoid spreading the ointment to sensitive areas such as the eyes.
1. “Capsaicin.” The PubChem Project. NIH, n.d. Web. 06 July 2016.
2. Arpad Szallasi, MD, PhD. Vanilloid (Capsaicin) Receptors in Health and Disease. Am J Clin Pathol 2002;118:110-121.
3. Fusco BM, Giacovazzo M. Peppers and pain. The promise of capsaicin. Drugs. 1997 Jun;53(6):909-14.
4. Arpad Szallasi1 and Peter M. Blumberg. “Vanilloid (Capsaicin) Receptors and Mechanisms.” Pharmacol Rev June 1, 1999 51:159-212; published online June 1, 1999.
5. “Starch Fossils and the Domestication and Dispersal of Chili Peppers (Capsicum Spp. L.) in the Americas.” Science Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 July 2016.
6. Barry JD, Hennessy R, McManus JG Jr. A randomized controlled trial comparing treatment regimens for acute pain for topical oleoresin capsaicin (pepper spray) exposure in adult volunteers. Prehosp Emerg Care. 2008 Oct-Dec;12(4):432-7. doi: 10.1080/10903120802290786.
7. Bernstein JE, Parish LC, Rapaport M, Rosenbaum MM, Roenigk HH Jr. Effects of topically applied capsaicin on moderate and severe psoriasis vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1986 Sep;15(3):504-7.
8. Lee JH, Lee YS, Lee EJ, Lee JH, Kim TY. Capsiate Inhibits DNFB-Induced Atopic Dermatitis in NC/Nga Mice through Mast Cell and CD4+ T-Cell Inactivation. J Invest Dermatol. 2015 Aug;135(8):1977-85. doi: 10.1038/jid.2015.117. Epub 2015 Mar 25.
9. Deal CL, Schnitzer TJ, Lipstein E, Seibold JR, Stevens RM, Levy MD, Albert D, Renold F. Treatment of arthritis with topical capsaicin: a double-blind trial. Clin Ther. 1991 May-Jun;13(3):383-95.
10. Chrubasik S, Weiser T, Beime B. Effectiveness and safety of topical capsaicin cream in the treatment of chronic soft tissue pain. Phytother Res. 2010 Dec;24(12):1877-85. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3335.
11. Kamchatnov PR, Evzelman MA, Abusueva BA, Volkov AI. [Capsaicin in treatment of neuropathic pain]. Zh Nevrol Psikhiatr Im S S Korsakova. 2014;114(11):139-44.
12. Derry S1, Sven-Rice A, Cole P, Tan T, Moore RA. Topical capsaicin (high concentration) for chronic neuropathic pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Feb 28;(2):CD007393. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007393.pub3.
13. Díaz-Laviada I1. Effect of capsaicin on prostate cancer cells. Future Oncol. 2010 Oct;6(10):1545-50. doi: 10.2217/fon.10.117.
14. Berger A, Henderson M, Nadoolman W, Duffy V, Cooper D, Saberski L, Bartoshuk L.Oral capsaicin provides temporary relief for oral mucositis pain secondary to chemotherapy/radiation therapy. J Pain Symptom Manage. 1995 Apr;10(3):243-8.
15. Janssens PL, Hursel R, Martens EA, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Acute effects of capsaicin on energy expenditure and fat oxidation in negative energy balance. PLoS One. 2013 Jul 2;8(7):e67786. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067786. Print 2013.
16. MS Westerterp-Plantenga, A Smeets and MPG Lejeune. Sensory and gastrointestinal satiety effects of capsaicin on food intake. International Journal of Obesity (2005) 29, 682–688. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802862 Published online 21 December 2004.
17. P. Anand, and K. Bley. Topical capsaicin for pain management: therapeutic potential and mechanisms of action of the new high-concentration capsaicin 8% patch. Br J Anaesth. 2011 Oct; 107(4): 490–502.
Dr. Edward F. Group III has his Naturopathic Doctorate, Clinical Herbalist, Holistic Health Practitioner, Clinical Nutritionist certifications, and is a Diplomate of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition and the American Board of Functional Medicine. He founded Global Healing Center Inc. in 1998 which has earned recognition as one of the largest alternative, natural and organic health resources on the Internet.
A dynamic author and speaker, Dr. Group focuses solely on spreading the message of health and wellness to the global community with the philosophy of full body cleansing, most importantly colon cleansing, consuming pure clean organic food, water, air, exercise and nutritional supplementation. Visit GlobalHealingCenter.com to learn more about living green and healthy!
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