Hot peppers do more than just make your nose run or add a little zing to your tacos or nachos. These peppers get their spice from a chemical called capsaicin, which has several health benefits including reducing body fat, reducing pain and inflammation and helping fight some types of cancer. Capsaicin is found in jalapeno, habanero or cayenne peppers and is primarily concentrated in the pepper’s seeds. Surprisingly, capsaicin itself doesn’t have any flavor or odor, but it is the chemical that adds spicy kick to your foods and causes the burning sensation you feel when you touch it.
Hoping to curb your appetite? Add a few hot peppers to your dinner. Chilies contain capsaicin, which speeds up your body’s metabolic rate – raising your temperature to burn more calories, according to an article by the "New York Times". While the boost in metabolism won’t likely impact your overall calories to a large extent, it can help you feel more satisfied.
Aches and Pains
It’s hard to believe but hot peppers can be soothing. Applied topically, capsaicin in cream-form can help reduce arthritis pain or other aches, strains and sprains. According to Manouchehr Saljoughian, PharmD, PhD from the Department of Pharmacy at Alta Bates Medical Center, therapeutic application of capsaicin causes the skin to release substance P, which results in a burning sensation, but upon regular application, the substance P is exhausted from the area, thus alleviating sensations of pain in that area. The cream is applied until the patient feels burning and then it is immediately removed
Hot peppers can provide relief from itching and inflammation caused by the skin disease, psoriasis, claims Dr. Ashwin Mehta, director of medicine at the University of Miami’s School of Medicine. When you eat capsaicin, you release endorphins, which help block the feeling of pain and may also reduce inflammation. Along with the painful itch that comes with psoriasis, hot peppers may also help arthritis pain and neurological pain.
Reduce High Blood Pressure
Got high blood pressure? Eat some chilies! A study published in Cell Metabolism in April 2010 shows a correlation between the intake of dietary capsaicin and reduced blood pressure. The capsaicin essentially allows your blood vessels to relax and protects them against inflammation.
Prostate Cancer Management
Researchers from the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, indicate that capsaicin in lab studies can actually slow the development of prostate cancer tumor cells and reduce the amount of PSA, a protein that is found in large amounts in prostate tumors. Paul Bosland, co-founder and director of New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute, says hot peppers have carotenoids and flavonoids that can fight the free radicals that cause cancer.
- US Pharmacist: Capsaicin: Risks and Benefits
- Northwestern Medill Reports: Peppers are Hot – as a Health and Diet Aid
- New York Times: The Claim: Spicy Foods Increase Metabolism
- Science Daily: Pepper Component Hot Enough to Trigger Suicide in Prostate Cancer Cells
- ABC News: The World’s Hottest Pepper: Brings Pleasure and Pain
- Science Direct: Cell Metabolism: Activation of TRPV1 by Dietary Capsaicin Improves Endothelium-Dependent Vasorelaxation and Prevents Hypertension
Poppy Carpenter graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. In addition to teaching journalism to junior high students, she also covers health and fitness for "PUSH Monthly" and Angie's List.