Native Americans have used cayenne (or red pepper) as both food and medicine for at least 9,000 years. The hot and spicy taste of cayenne pepper is primarily due to an ingredient known as capsaicin. Although it tastes hot, capsaicin actually stimulates a region of the brain that lowers body temperature. In fact, many people in subtropical and tropical climates consume cayenne pepper regularly because it helps them tolerate the heat.
The popularity of cayenne pepper has spread throughout the world, and it has become an important spice, particularly in Cajun and Creole cooking, and in the cuisines of Southeast Asia, China, Southern Italy, and Mexico. As well as being an important spice in many ethnic cuisines, cayenne has also been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean medicines as a remedy for digestive problems, appetite stimulation, muscle pain, and frostbite. Today, topical preparations of cayenne are used in the United States and Europe primarily to relieve pain associated with certain conditions such as arthritis, shingles (Herpes zoster), and cancer. Capsaicin is also a key ingredient in many personal defense sprays.
Capsaicin in cayenne pepper has very powerful pain-relieving properties when applied to the surface of the skin. Laboratory studies have found that capsaicin relieves pain by destroying a chemical known as substance P that normally carries pain messages to the brain. This appears to be true when applied topically for the following conditions:
Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis, as well as joint or muscle pain from other causes.
Shingles and other painful skin conditions; pain from shingles can continue to recur even after the skin blisters have disappeared. Capsaicin may help this latter pain, which is called post-herpetic neuralgia, as well, but not all studies agree and the research is somewhat limited. Whether your post-herpetic neuralgia improves or disappears using capsaicin may be very individual. Check with your healthcare provider to see it is safe and appropriate for you to try this topical treatment.
Chronic headaches, including Cluster headaches (a severe one-sided headache that tends to occur in clusters, happening repeatedly every day at the same time for possibly several weeks); for this purpose the capsaicin is placed inside the nose.
Pain from Peripheral Neuropathy (nerve damage experienced in the feet and/or legs) due to diabetes; peripheral neuropathy pain from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), however, does not seemed to be relieved from capsaicin.
Low back pain: Homeopathic gels of capsaicin are available for this purpose. Capsaicin, however, is not generally considered a first-line homeopathic remedy for low back pain because other homeopathic remedies have fewer side effects.
Capsaicin cream can reduce itching and inflammation associated with psoriasis (a chronic skin disease that generally appears as patches of raised red skin covered by a flaky white buildup).
Capsaicin is also considered a thermogenic substance, which means that it allows you to burn more calories from food, particularly when eating a high fat meal. For this reason, some weight loss supplements contain capsaicin. There are no studies examining the safety and effectiveness of capsaicin for helping people lose weight, however.
Cayenne is a shrub that grows in subtropical and tropical climates. Its fruit grows into long pods that turn red, orange, or yellow when they ripen. The fruit is eaten raw or cooked, or is dried and powdered into the spice that has been used for centuries in certain meals and medicines.
What’s It Made Of?
Capsaicin is the most active ingredient in cayenne, but other important ingredients include carotenoids, vitamins A and C, and flavonoids.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger side effects and that can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
Wash hands well after use and avoid touching the eyes. Cayenne does not dissolve easily in water, so vinegar should be used to remove this substance from the skin. Capsaicin cream may cause an itching, burning sensation on the skin, but these symptoms tend to subside quickly. It is best to test capsaicin cream on a small area of the skin before extended use. If it causes irritation, or if symptoms do not resolve after 2 to 4 weeks, discontinue use. Do not to use capsaicin with a heating pad and do not to apply capsaicin cream immediately before or after hot showers.
Capsaicin capsules may cause stomach irritation.
People who are allergic to latex, bananas, kiwi, chestnuts, and avocado may also have an allergy to peppers.
It is considered safe for use during pregnancy, but it is not known whether the spicy compounds are transferred through breastfeeding. For this reason, nursing mothers should be very cautious about using cayenne.
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