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  • Natalie Rogers, HHP

Cayenne (Capsicum spp.)

Cayenne pepper (Capsicum spp.) is one of my favorite herbs to use while cooking foods. Just a little sprinkle before serving can add a whole new level of flavor to your dishes! But did you know that cayenne pepper also has some rather beneficial therapeutic properties to it?



Cayenne Peppers

Cayenne pepper is used throughout the world as a food, spice, and for medicinal uses in the forms of tablets, capsules, tinctures, and even in various balms and salves. New Mexico actually provides around 100 million pounds of dried cayenne peppers every year!


So what is it about cayenne peppers that make them so useful for therapeutic and medicinal purposes?


A chemical constituent called capsaicin. Capsaicin has been found to be beneficial in topical preparations for inflammation, joint pain, shingles, postherpetic neuralgia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, diabetic neuropathy, and post-surgical pain. [1] This chemical constituent is an alkaloid that acts upon specific nerve cell receptors which are called the vanilloid receptors, also known as the TRPV1 receptor. TRPV1 are pro-inflammatory receptors that are activated by the capsaicin found in cayenne peppers and capsaicin preparations. They can also be activated by piperine and gingerols that are found in various other herbs. Over time, these receptors become desensitized. This process is known as tachyphylaxis. [2]


"Although the pain and burning from consumption of cayenne or capsaicin can be disturbing, no actual harm results from its consumption. In effect, the specific action on vanilloid receptors creates an illusion of pain and burning. Tissue damage is not concurrent with these sensations. This contrasts strongly with the mustard oils, which are highly corrosive and produce sensations of pain and burning in association with actual tissue damage." [2] - Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy 2nd Edition



There is a large amount of studies that have been performed using cayenne peppers and capsicum containing preparations to test the efficacy of the therapeutic properties. In 2013, a trial was published about a capsicum containing supplement called InstaFlex Joint Support. This product contained glucosamine sulfate, methylsufonlylmethane (MSM), white willow bark extract (15% salicin), ginger root concentrate, boswella serrata extract (65% boswellic acid), turmeric root extract, cayenne, and hyaluronic acid. The researchers found that the level of joint pain that the participants suffered from was significantly reduced when taking InstaFlex Joint Support when compared to the placebo group. [5]


In 2017, researchers published a trial that was performed to test the effectiveness of a capsaicin 8% patch to help manage pain from peripheral neuropathy. Participants in this trial were monitored for 52 weeks and within two weeks of the trial, some reported a significant reduction in their pain levels. This reduction was maintained throughout the trial. The researchers concluded that a capsaicin 8% patch was effective in sustaining pain relief. [4]


Sounds like capsaicin and products made with cayenne pepper can be quite beneficial in addressing pain relief! I have personally had a great experience using capsaicin topically for aching joints and joint inflammation, especially during the weather changes because my arthritis flares up during the colder months. Just make sure to wash your hands incredibly well after handling cayenne peppers and products made with cayenne peppers and capsaicin.


Have you successfully used cayenne pepper for therapeutic purposes? Share in the comments below!


SAFETY & CONTRAINDICATIONS

Source: American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook 2nd Edition [3]


- Safety Class 1 (Internal usage): can be safely consumed when used appropriately.- Safety Class 2d (External usage): usage restrictions apply unless otherwise directed by an expert qualified in the use of the described substance.- Interaction Class A: Herbs for which no clinically relevant interactions are expected.- Do not use in or around the eyes.- Excessive doses may cause gastrointestinal irritation, heartburn, or may exacerbate gastroesophageal reflux.- Cayenne pepper and preparations made using cayenne pepper or capsaicin can irritate mucous membranes, injured skin, broken skin, and may cause a painful burning sensation followed by erythema (redness of the skin).- Topical usage of cayenne pepper products may exacerbate cough caused by angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.- German Commission E suggests that capsicum should not be used externally for more than two days, with a 14 day break in between applications.- Pregnancy and lactation: no safety has been conclusively established.

References


[1] Blumenthal, M., & Wollschlaeger, B. (2003). The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Stuttgart, Germany: Thieme.


[2] Bone, K., & Mills, S. (2012). Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy,Modern Herbal Medicine,2: Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy (2nd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences.


[3] Gardner, Z., & McGuffin, M. (2013). American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook, Second Edition (2nd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.


[4] Mankowski C , et al. (2017, April 21). Effectiveness of the capsaicin 8% patch in the management of peripheral neuropathic pain in European clinical practice: the ASCEND study. - PubMed - NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28431564


[5] Nieman DC , et al. (2013, November 25). A commercialized dietary supplement alleviates joint pain in community adults: a double-blind, placebo-controlled community trial. - PubMed - NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24274358