Cayenne pepper is a hot chili pepper, frequently used in the preparation of spicy dishes that has been associated with a wide range of health benefits. The chili originated in Central and South America. It is named after the capital city of the French Guiana, “Cayenne”. Cayenne pepper is normally added to food in either its natural or powdered form and is also available as a cream or capsule to be applied topically – to treat arthritis and muscle pain.
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The potential health benefits of cayenne include:
Capsaicin – a compound found in cayenne peppers may have pain-relieving properties, according to a systematic review of topical capsaicin for the treatment of chronic pain published in the British Medical Journal.
The researchers concluded that despite only moderate efficacy of capsaicin in the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal or neuropathic pain, it “may be useful as an adjunct or sole therapy for a small number of patients who are unresponsive to, or intolerant of, other treatments.”1
In addition, research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that the application of capsaicin cream among cancer survivors with postsurgical neuropathic pain can reduce postsurgical neuropathic pain2 and, “despite some toxicities, is preferred by patients over a placebo by a three-to-one margin among those expressing a preference.”
A group of researchers at Purdue University conducted a study that evaluated the “effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite”. The findings of their study, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, suggest that consuming just half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper along with a meal can help suppress appetite and burn calories.3
The results of the research revealed that those who mixed cayenne pepper with their food burned an additional 10 calories four hours after eating their meal compared to those who did not add cayenne.
A double-blind study that evaluated the topical application of capsaicin in treating psoriasis revealed that it can significantly improve itching and other symptoms associated with psoriasis.
The research, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, concluded that “topically applied capsaicin effectively treats pruritic psoriasis.”4
Topical application of capsaicin may help treat cluster headaches.
A study published in Cephalalgia found that capsaicin can desensitize sensory neurons by depleting the nerve terminals of substance P – a neuropeptide associated with inflammatory processes and pain. The authors of the study concluded: “these results indicate that intranasal capsaicin may provide a new therapeutic option for the treatment of this disease.”5
People are advised to wash their hands straight after using cayenne and avoid touching their eyes. According to the NYU Langone Medical Center, when capsaicin creams are applied they are capable of causing an unpleasant burning sensation.6
In addition, people who are on ACE inhibitors or stomach acid reducers should avoid taking cayenne.
Taking cayenne at the same time as ACE inhibitors (such as Captopril and Elaroptril) can increase the risk of cough – one of the side effects of ACE inhibitors. Cayenne can increase stomach acid, which makes stomach acid reducers (such as Famotidine and Cimetidine) less effective, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.7