The list of health benefits from hot peppers continually grow at a break-neck speed, as well as the increasing popularity of consuming hot foods. The heat and health benefits of peppers comes from a chemical called capsaicin.
Historically, the addition of spicy peppers to food helped prevent spoilage in warm climates, before the invention of refrigeration. Capsaicin has anti-microbial properties that inhibit as much as 75% of bacteria growth. People from cultures who lived and survived due to the use of various spices, passed their receipes down to the net of kin.
Benefits the Digestive Tract
It might sound counter-intuitive, but capsaicin in peppers actually acts as an anti-irritant. People with ulcers have been told for years to avoid hot spicy foods, but research has revealed that peppers are beneficial to ulcers. Here is one such report.
For example, pepper powder provides trace amounts of anti-oxidants and other chemicals to aid digestive issues such as, healing an upset stomach, reducing intestinal gas, curing diarrhea and acting as a natural remedy for cramps.
It does this by reducing the acidity in the digestive tract that causes ulcers. It also helps produce saliva and stimulates gastric juices aiding digestion.
Promotes a Healthy Heart
Surprising fact, adding some spice to your life might also add years to your life, according to new research.
The pungent, fiery chili pepper can help reduce the risk of dying from major medical problems like heart attack and stroke, according to a new study published December 16 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. If eaten regularly, it could lower your risk of death by all chronic illnesses by as much as 23%.
For the study, researchers at the Mediterranean Neurological Institute in Pozzilli, Italy, looked at 22,811 Italian men and women who were 35 years old or older and who had tracked their health and eating habits in a regional health study over an average period of eight years.
The researchers found that people who consumed meals containing chilis at least four times a week had up to a 40% lower risk of dying of heart attack, and a nearly 50% lower risk of dying of a stroke or other brain condition.
Although it’s not yet clear what makes hot peppers so good for disease prevention, capsaicin, a compound that causes the mild burning sensation of spicy foods in small doses, seems to play a role. In large amounts, capsaicin can be painful and even toxic, but the low doses found in peppers can stimulate nerves and boost metabolism, aid digestion, and lower blood pressure.
Relieves Joint Pain
Capsaicin—a substance in chili pepper plants that makes them spicy hot—exerts its pain-attenuating effects by triggering a signaling cascade that results in the inactivation of mechano-sensitive transmembrane channels in neurons, according to a study published this week (February 10) in Science Signaling.
Initially causing a burning hot sensation, the compound is used as a topical pain medication because, when applied regularly, results in numbness to local tissue. Despite being widely used, researchers have previously not known how capsaicin exerts its pain-killing effects.
The initial pain-dulling sensation occurs when capsaicin activates heat-sensing transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) ion channels on sensory neurons. Prolonged stimulation with the compound results in desensitization of these neurons. “This is one of the underlying mechanisms of capsaicin’s numbing effect, but TRPV1 is a heat sensor, so how it affects mechanical pain was not known,” said Tibor Rohacs, an associate professor of pharmacology and physiology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, who led the study.
Rohacs and his colleagues uncovered a link between the heat-stimulating function of capsaicin and its ability to relieve mechanical pain including neuralgia (pain from damaged nerves), neuropathy, and muscle and joint pain. Capsaicin’s activation of TRPV1 ion channels in turns inhibits mechanical force-sensing ion channels called Piezo1 and 2 by depleting phospholipid signaling molecules, phosphoinositides, in the cell membrane.
“What is unique in this study is how one kind of channel regulates the activity of another,” said Tamas Balla, a signal transduction researcher at the National Institutes of Health who previously collaborated with Rohacs but was not part of the current study. “I believe that this is the first example of ion channel cross-talk mediated by phospholipids,” Balla added.
“The work is very thorough and cutting-edge,” Mario Rebecchi, an anesthesiology and biophysics researcher at Stony Brook University in New York, told The Scientist in an e-mail.
Dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons perceive pain and are often used to study mechanically stimulated ion channels, also found in peripheral neurons of the skin. Using DRG neurons isolated from mice, Rohacs and his colleagues first found capsaicin able to inhibit mechanically activated currents in these cells. The researchers then expressed TRPV1 along with either the mechanically stimulated Piezo 1 or 2 ion channel in human embryonic kidney cells. The expression of TRPV1 was necessary for capsaicin to inhibit the activity of the Piezo channels. “What was really striking was that the inhibition [of the Piezo mechnosensitive channels] was almost 100 percent,” said Rohacs.
TRPV1 activation increases intracellular calcium ion levels, which then activate phospholipase C (PLC) enzymes to break down phosphoinositides. Adding two of the most abundant types of phosphoinositides into the solution of DRG neurons in vitro resulted in less inhibition of Piezo ion channel signaling, suggesting that these lipids are required to relay the signal from TRPV1 to the mechanically stimulated Piezo channels.
To show that the depletion of phosphoinositides inhibits the Piezo ion channels, and that other calcium-signaling dependent pathways are not involved, the team bypassed PLC signaling by expressing a phosphatase that also breaks down the membrane phosphoinositides but does not result in downstream signaling effects. This direct depletion of phosphoinositides also resulted in the block of Piezo channel activity. Further in vitro experiments showed that it is the PLC delta isoform that is necessary to dampen the mechanically stimulated ion channels (rather than the beta version). Typically, PLC beta signals through G protein-coupled receptors while PLC delta signals by activating calcium ions.
“This work links how a chemical stimulus can indirectly influence a mechanical process, at least at the cellular level,” Philip Gottlieb, a biophysics researcher at the University of Buffalo in New York who was not involved in the work, told The Scientist in an e-mail. “The supposition is that mechanically induced pain can be affected by a chemical that is known to activate the TRPV1 [ion channel yet appears] unrelated to the mechanically induced response.”
The capsaicin mechanism likely involves other signaling pathways, but inhibition of Piezo channels makes sense in the context of reducing pain, said Rohacs. Another pain modality modified by capsaicin is thermal pain, Rebecchi noted.
Still, to Rebecchi’s mind, “it is a huge leap to go from channel activities in an artificial heterologous expression model in vitro to sensation of pain.” Gottleib agreed: “There remain many questions including how this will play out in animal models.”
One question is how inflammation is coordinated with pain perception and sensitivity. Balla said he would like to see how this pain-perceiving neuronal pathway interacts with inflammatory signaling molecules like bradykinin, an inflammation-mediating peptide that indirectly activates TRPV1 ion channels. This would help researchers better “understand the key players acting in concert in pain perception,” said Balla.
Improves Metabolism/ Improves Weight Loss
Adding some spicy hot peppers to a healthy meal isn’t a magic bullet, but it may help you burn a few extra calories and a bit more fat, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles tested a compound related to the capsaicin found in hot peppers to see if it could give dieters a boost. It’s called dihydrocapsiate or DCT, and it’s not spicy hot like jalapenos.
They wanted to see if the pepper-like compound, by heating up the body, could translate to better calorie and fat burning.
“DCT caused an increase in calories burned after a test meal,” study author David Heber, MD, PhD, founding director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, tells WebMD. The boost, however, was modest — translating to about 100 extra calories a day for a 110-pound woman and 200 extra calories for a 200-pound man, he says. Fat burning was up a bit, too.
Psoriasis is a condition where skin cells grow at a rapid rate, causing an accumulation that forms lesions around the body. Psoriatic lesions typically affect the knees, elbows, hands, feet, eyelids, mouth, lips, ears, face, and scalp. Psoriatic lesions tend to favor the folds of the skin and are known to cause feelings of discomfort, such as itchiness, burning, and stinging.
Cayenne peppers have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Capsaicin, the ingredient in peppers that gives them their heat, is also the active ingredient in many pain-relieving gels and creams. In one study, applying capsaicin cream to the skin relieved itching and skin lesions in people with psoriasis. Capsaicin can cause a burning sensation to the skin, which improves the longer you use it. It’s important to wash your hands immediately after rubbing in capsaicin and not touch your eyes or mouth while you have capsaicin on your hands.
Reduces Cancer Risk
In the lab, capsaicin seems to kill cells linked to more than 40 types of cancer, including the colon, liver, lung, and pancreatic cancers and leukemia. The spicy chemical changes how some genes linked with cancer cells act and even stops them from growing. But other research suggests capsaicin itself may be linked to cancer. More studies are needed.
Fights the Flu, Colds and Fungal Infections
The characteristic red color of chili peppers is an indication that it is rich in beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A. Vitamin A is key in maintaining a healthy respiratory, intestinal, and urinary system. Also, vitamin A and vitamin C in the chili peppers are vital in building up your immunity against infections and illnesses.
If you suffer from congestion or allergies, a capsaicin nasal spray can help relieve your symptoms. Moreover, capsaicin has a number of antibacterial properties that can fight chronic sinus infections.
If you are suffering from a high fever, hot chili peppers can not only relieve the pain, but they can also stimulate the immune system to fight off the virus.
Chili peppers can also be used for their anti-fungal properties. Specifically, it can kill food pathogens, bacteria like H. pylori and cure a number of inflammatory bowel diseases.
Prevents Bad Breath
Bad breath or halitosis is a common cause for worry and embarrassment for many people especially when the condition becomes chronic, meaning the person suffers from it all the time. It makes them very conscious of their surroundings and it may hinder the social life of the person. Those people may want to begin eating more cayenne pepper, as it has been proven to be a simple solution to many bad breath problems. While it will probably not work as a permanent remedy, cayenne pepper has been noted as a possible substance for treating mild cases of halitosis.
Cayenne, whose scientific names are Capsicum frutescens or Capsicum annuum, is a hot pepper that is derived from capsicum and has an active ingredient called capsaicin. It is regularly used to treat a variety of conditions such as sinusitis, headaches, asthma, diabetes, pneumonia, arthritis, psoriasis, etc. It is helpful in improvement of blood circulation and the removal of toxins from the body. It is also helpful in treating a variety of gastrointestinal problems and aids in improving the digestion.
This substance is used to combat bad breath both directly and indirectly. The peppers are used directly when the source for bad breath is a dry mouth and indirectly when the cause is an underlying gastrointestinal problem.
Combating these gastrointestinal problems helps in indirectly reducing bad breath as these problems are a cause for halitosis. In addition to helping you get more saliva in your mouth, this substance is also helpful in improving the clearance of waste from the system thus reducing intestinal gases that may cause bad breath.
Cayenne, though a hot pepper, is a helpful ingredient in reducing gastrointestinal problems and is frequently used by many people suffering such problems and associated problems such as bad breath.
Now on the market are effective sinus-clearing nasal sprays based on capsaicin, the fiery substance in hot peppers. In recent research, capsaicin has been used to treat not only sinus problems, but also headaches, pain, inflammation, gastric problems, obesity, and even cancer.
Capsaicin based sprays desensitize the mucous membranes in the nose, making them less irritated by airborne particles and quickly relieving symptoms of allergies and sinus congestion. By stimulating secretions to help clear mucus, these sprays prevent allergy triggers while keeping your nasal passages moist, clean, and free of bacteria.
Capsaicin also possesses powerful antibacterial properties, and is very effective in fighting and preventing chronic sinus infections (sinusitis). This purely natural chemical will also clear out congested nasal passages like nothing else, and is helpful in treating sinus-related allergy symptoms. Small daily doses of capsaicin have even been shown to prevent chronic nasal congestion.
Helps Migraine Sufferers
An extract from a chili pepper plant is showing promise in the treatment of cluster headache and migraine.
The extract—capsaicin, from the plant capsicum annuum—has been used as a pain reliever for centuries, and a study showing its success as treatment for headache and migraine pain was presented at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in late April and early May.
Maria Alexianu, MD, PhD, and Anjan Chatterjee, MD, MPH, reported on their study of 18 adult patients with a wide range of headache diagnoses who used intranasal capsaicin to treat the pain. Both physicians are neurologists. Dr.Chatterjee is a migraineur and the founder of VR1 Inc., which is currently marketing Ausinil, an over-the-counter homeopathic nasal spray containing the chili pepper extract.
In the small trial, 13 patients experienced complete pain relief. Most of the remaining patients also reported some pain relief, and one patient reported no pain relief.
The relief came soon after use for most patients and lasted from 30 minutes to several hours. All of the patients experienced tearing of the eyes and a nasal sting lasting up to 10 minutes, but the 17 patients who reported pain relief continued to use the product and said the stinging sensation would not deter them from using the agent.
The researchers say they believe capsaicin works by desensitizing the trigeminal nerve and depleting CGRP, the neurotransmitter responsible for migraine pain.
“By depleting CGRP, intranasal capsaicin is able to specifically target the source of the headache pain. These results emphasize the potential that intranasal capsaicin may offer in terms of rapid pain relief to severe headache and migraine sufferers who are in need of new treatment options,” said Dr. Chatterjee.
More information about the product is available online. Because the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, The National Headache Foundation’s President Arthur Elkind,MD, cautioned that the results should be considered preliminary, and he noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the nasal spray.