The Health Benefits of Capsaicin

The Health Benefits of Capsaicin

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Introduction

Capsaicin is a biologically active component of chili peppers, which are consumed by more than a quarter of the world's population on a daily basis. It provides a hot, spicy flavor to food dishes by acting as an irritant which presents with a burning sensation.

Capsaicin works by binding to a capsaicin receptor, technically called TRPV1, which is a nerve receptor that detects the burning sensation. Theoretically, it turns the nerve receptors on, then exhausts them until they no longer fire, which is how it can help treat pain; by exhausting the nerves. It has also been shown to influence serum levels of substance P, serotonin and somatostatin. You can become sensitized (and de-sensititized) to capsaicin, which is why some people are more tolerant of the habinero peppers and similar hot peppers than other folks.

It’s also worth noting that capsaicin has many cousins that act very similarly which are generally called capsinoids. This includes substances like dihydrocapsiate (DCT) and capsiate. Because capsaicin as a medication is so novel, it’ s not clear what benefits the capsinoids may have versus capsaicin itself. I just wanted you to be aware that there really is a cluster of molecules that act like capsaicin found in various hot peppers.

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Current Research & Potential Benefits

Pain

It can be used topically and orally for pain relief, although the topical prep is more well known. Most often recommended for post surgical pain, neurologic pain (including diabetic neuropathy, shingles and trigeminal neuralgia), cluster headaches, and arthritic pain. Scientists have shown that capsaicin cream can be used to treat bone cancer in animals, and are currently conducting similar pain studies in humans.

Skin conditions

It has been used to treat Psoriasis, although more research is required.

Depression

Endorphin release may help treat or prevent depression

Metabolism and GI tract

Well known to increase metabolism in humans studies. May act as a stimulant of digestive tract. Alkaline, inhibits gastric acid secretion, may help with peptic ulcers; studies show pepper consumption is protective against ulcers and stomach cancer

Diabetes

Does cause an increase in substance P (which has been shown to reverse diabetes in mice), although the clinical relevance at this time is unknown.

Cancer

Documented to help kill prostate cancer cells, may also help with colon, pancreatic, liver, breast cancer but more research is needed.

Anti oxidant and anti-inflamamtory

Well documented to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties

Anti-cholesterol

Preliminary studies have shown that capsaicin can inhibit fat absorption and serum cholesterol in animals.

Precuations

Keep in mind that this is a relatively new substance as a medication and is not well understood. It is however, generally considered safe. Side effect profile may include upset stomach including nausea, vomiting, abd pain and diarrhea. Be wary of supplements as this is not a well studied drug and I can’t find any FDA guidelines on oral therapy

Formulations

It can be taken either (a) as a Supplement (topical or pill) or (b) naturally from peppers (probably best source). Unfortunately, there is no advice or recommendations on daily dose.

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