Capsaicin is what makes chili peppers hot. When consumed in a somewhat diluted form, capsaicin has some health benefits for nerve disorders, neuropathy, pain relief, and psoriasis. Capsaicin may also increase metabolism.

What is Capsaicin?

Capsaicin is the major ingredient in hot peppers (R).

There is a capsaicin receptor expressed by primary sensory neurons in the pain pathway, called the TRPV1 receptor (also called the capsaicin receptor or vanilloid receptor).

Mice that are bred to lack the TRPV1 receptor are unable to sense certain types of pain, such as from heat or inflammation (R).

How Capsaicin Works

Capsaicin initially causes an intense excitation of sensory neurons, followed by a long period of insensitivity to stimuli (R).

Capsaicin may also decrease the amount of Substance P in the spinal cord, but not in the brain. Substance P may be involved in how pain transmits through the synapse.

Benefits of Capsaicin

1) Cardiovascular

In mice, capsaicin delays stroke occurrence by increasing nitric oxide in the blood vessel (eNOS). This increase in eNOS, in turn, is associated with increased lifespan in the mice.

Capsaicin also lowers blood pressure in rats prone to hypertension. In addition, it blunts the nighttime rise in blood pressure from a high-sodium diet. Capsaicin may do this by reducing sodium retention by the kidneys.

Capsaicin is also known to externally dilate the coronary arteries of pigs. However, direct application of capsaicin on the muscles that line the blood vessels promotes constriction.

This shows the net effect varies, and as such, the interactions are very complex (R).

2) May Help Weight Loss

Clinical trials have shown that capsaicin:

  • increases metabolic rate
  • increases energy expenditure by 50 calories per a day, without increasing the heart rate
  • increases fat burning rate
  • decreases appetite by increasing GLP-1 secretion and activating parts of the brain that control appetite

When ingested orally with green tea, capsaicin reduced appetite and food intake in humans.

Early research indicates that taking capsaicin as a weight-loss supplement is safe, but more must be known about its effectiveness (R).

Capsaicin increases metabolism by activating TRPV1 receptors. These receptors are responsible for the increasing body temperature as well as pain sensation.

Upon activation, the receptors move calcium into the cells, which furthers the cellular production of antioxidant enzymes, while decreasing proteins known to cause inflammation.

Through this mechanism, capsaicin raises the basal metabolic rate in the gut (R).

This TRPV1 activation provides protective antioxidants in cases of fatty liver disease and high blood sugar (R).

3) Stomach Ulcers

Capsaicin prevents stomach ulcers in animals, and may also help heal existing ones. Capsaicin inhibits gastric acid secretions, boosts alkali and mucus secretion, and stimulates gastric blood flow (R).

Capsaicin slows stomach tissue damage and bleeding in animals (R).

4) Cancer

Capsaicin induces apoptosis in gastric, pancreatic, and colon cancer cells, indicating that it may possibly be useful as a cancer treatment (R).

Capsaicin also induced cell death in a dose-dependent manner in colon cancer cells (R).

Capsaicin was also responsible for cell death in mice with pancreatic tumors (R).

In mice, consuming capsaicin significantly slowed the growth of prostate cancer implants (R).

Capsaicin inhibits the growth of prostate cancer cells by inducing the death of androgen receptors (test tubes) (R).

Capsaicin decreases cellular production of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and inflammatory proteins like NF-kB (R).

Other studies have shown capsaicin as ineffective, or as an irritant (R).

Cellular or animal studies that show promise against cancer don’t often translate to any cancer benefits in humans. Further research and large clinical trials are needed to determine if capsaicin can be useful as a treatment for cancer (R).

7) Psoriasis

Capsaicin inhibits widening of the skin’s blood vessels (cutaneous vasodilation), which may help with psoriasis (R).

Capsaicin is also thought to reduce scaling and erythema (patchy redness) of the skin (R).

However, some patients may experience burning, stinging, itching, and redness as side effects from topical capsaicin use, although these symptoms diminished or disappeared with continued use (R).

8) COPD, Emphysema, Lung Issues

Recent studies have tested subjects’ responsiveness to inhaled capsaicin with respect to their level of cough. Several different studies were performed on those who suffer from diseases such as asthma, COPD (chronic pulmonary lung disease), and emphysema (R, R2).

In diseases such as COPD, it is noted that chronic cough occurs from the accumulation of mucus. While cough responsiveness due to inhaled capsaicin differed across disease thresholds, the capsaicin itself helps to break up mucus and relieve phlegm (R, R2).

In turn, the use of capsaicin makes the cough associated with chronic lung conditions less frequent and less painful (R, R2).

Some people notice that when they eat cayenne pepper, they can cough out mucus better.

9) Pain

Topical capsaicin is commonly used for pain relief. However, topical application is more effective for the relief of skin and topical problems as well as arthritis.

Patients in search of a non-narcotic alternative who need stronger pain relief are advised to try a concentrated capsaicin patch. Because capsaicin is known to decrease the amount of Substance P (SP) in the spinal cord, it tricks the brain’s TRPV1 receptors, and decreases pain as a result.

This stronger patch may reliably help with back pain and other chronic pain conditions.

10) Osteoporosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Capsaicin is a potential treatment for bone and joint diseases such as osteoporosis, in addition to being a worthwhile option for disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. Topically administered, patients that suffer from these types of problems were able to relieve pain associated with the disease.

Capsaicin, when used as a treatment for musculoskeletal disorders, is applied via a cream, patch, or gel. Similarly to other disorders and respective treatments, patients may experience skin irritation or burning, but in most, these side effects disappear with continued use.

Results differ by disorder; one in six patients who suffer from neuropathy experienced relief from capsaicin, while one in eight subjects who suffer from musculoskeletal ailments found capsaicin therapeutic.

11) Canker Sores

Capsaicin has long been regarded as natural relief for pain caused by canker sores and other sores in the mouth. Natural recipes for remedies, such as capsaicin taffy, are widely available for public use, and some patients report this as an effective treatment for canker sores.

Topical capsaicin has also been proven effective in the treatment of burning mouth syndrome (BMS), although capsaicin’s naturally irritating quality may have an adverse effect on some users (R).

Capsaicin Dosage

Dosage varies widely with different administrations. The most common administrative forms of capsaicin include creams, patches, and gels. Capsaicin is administered to both children and adults. The product is sold under many different brand names and forms. It is always best to read a label fully before application.

Normal adults may apply the 0.075% cream up to four times per day, or apply the 0.025%, 0.03%, 0.0375%, or 0.05% patch for up to eight hours. The patch application should not exceed more than five consecutive days.

Normal children over the age of 12 can refer to adult dosing when applying the medication.

Capsaicin Safety

The most common side effects from capsaicin use are skin irritation and a burning sensation. In many cases, these instances disappear within a few days of use. If conditions persist, it is always wise to contact a doctor before continuing use.

Some forms of capsaicin contain benzyl alcohol, which is associated with toxic gasping syndrome. Patients with an acute allergy to benzyl alcohol should read the label completely and fully or avoid the product completely.

In some cases, capsaicin has been known to cause second- and third-degree burns on the skin. If risk is suspected, proceed to the nearest emergency room and discontinue use.

Capsaicin may cause CNS (central nervous system) depression in some patients. For this reason, users should not operate machinery or drive a car until they are aware of how their body reacts to treatment.

There have been no adverse effects associated with pregnant women, and capsaicin itself is labeled as pregnancy risk factor B (R).

Clinical trials show that capsaicin, when applied topically, is responsible for the degeneration of nerve fibers close to the skin, affecting blood vessels and sensory function (R).

Damage to the skin’s cutaneous nerve fibers is often responsible for nerve injuries such as meralgia paresthetica, cutaneous nerve entrapment system (ACNES), and other nervous system disorders.

Marketed as Qutenza, high-dose capsaicin treatment is effective at relieving severe nerve pain in clinical trials and was therefore approved by the FDA as a viable treatment. Patients who suffer from severe neuropathy or nerve pain would be wise to suggest high-dose capsaicin to their physician as a viable form of treatment (R).

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