Hot and spicy, cayenne pepper adds zest to flavorful dishes around the world and health to those brave enough to risk its fiery heat. The hotness produced by cayenne is caused by its high concentration of a substance called capsaicin. Technically referred to as 8-methyul-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide, capsaicin has been widely studied for its pain-reducing effects, its cardiovascular benefits, and its ability to help prevent ulcers. Capsaicin also effectively opens and drains congested nasal passages.
In addition to their high capsaicin content, cayenne peppers are also a very good source of vitamin A, through its concentration of pro-vitamin A carotenoids including beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is not only a potent antioxidant in its own right, but can be converted in the body to vitamin A, a nutrient essential for the health of all epithelial tissues (the tissues that line all body cavities including the respiratory, gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts). Beta-carotene may therefore be helpful in reducing the symptoms of asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, its antioxidant activity make it useful in preventing the free radical damage that can lead to atherosclerosis, colon cancer, and diabetic complications, like nerve damage and heart disease.
All chili peppers, including cayenne, contain capsaicin, which in addition to giving cayenne its characteristic heat, is a potent inhibitor of substance P, a neuropeptide associated with inflammatory processes. The hotter the chili pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. The hottest varieties include habanero and Scotch bonnet as well as cayenne peppers. Jalapenos are next in their heat and capsaicin content, followed by the milder varieties, including Spanish pimentos, and Anaheim and Hungarian cherry peppers.
Capsaicin is being studied as an effective treatment for sensory nerve fiber disorders, including pain associated with arthritis, psoriasis, and diabetic neuropathy. When animals injected with a substance that causes inflammatory arthritis were fed a diet that contained capsaicin, they had delayed onset of arthritis, and also significantly reduced paw inflammation. Topical capsaicin has been shown in studies to be an effective treatment for cluster headaches and osteoarthritis pain. Several review studies of pain management for diabetic neuropathy have listed the benefits of topical capsaicin to alleviate disabling pain associated with this condition.
In a double-blind placebo controlled trial, nearly 200 patients with psoriasis were given topical preparations containing either capsaicin or placebo. Patients who were given capsaicin reported significant improvement based on a severity score which traced symptoms associated with psoriasis. The side effect reported with topical capsaicin cream is a burning sensation at the area of application.
Cayenne and other red chili peppers have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, while increasing the body's ability to dissolve fibrin, a substance integral to the formation of blood clots. Cultures where hot peppers like cayenne are used liberally have a much lower rate of heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism.
Capsaicin not only reduces pain, but its peppery heat also stimulates secretions that help clear mucus from your stuffed up nose or congested lungs. Capsaicin is similar to a compound found in many cold remedies for breaking up congestion, except that capsaicin works much faster. A tea made with hot cayenne pepper very quickly stimulates the mucus membranes lining the nasal passages to drain, helping to relieve congestion and stuffiness. Next cold and flu season, give it a try.
Cayenne peppers' bright red color signals its high content of beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A. Often called the anti-infection vitamin, vitamin A is essential for healthy epithelial tissues including the mucous membranes that line the nasal passages, lungs, intestinal tract and urinary tract and serve as the body's first line of defense against invading pathogens. Chili peppers like cayenne have a bad--and undeserved--reputation for contributing to stomach ulcers. Not only do they not cause ulcers, these hot peppers may help prevent them by killing bacteria you may have ingested, while powerfully stimulating the cells lining the stomach to secrete protective buffering juices that prevent ulcer formation. The use of cayenne pepper is actually associated with a reduced risk of stomach ulcers. All that heat you feel after eating hot chili peppers takes energy--and calories to produce. Even sweet red peppers have been found to contain substances that significantly increase thermogenesis (heat production) and oxygen consumption for more than 20 minutes after they are eaten. *As noted in the world’s healthiest foods.