Capsicum Health Benefits and Uses

Capsicum Health Benefits and Uses

Updated May 15, 2019

Capsicum, or pepper, is a fruit that is a member of the nightshade family of plants.  The word capsicum stems from the Latin word “box” and pepper refers to heat. Capsicum health benefits are many, owing primarily to their legendary heat properties, but also high nutrient content.  The capsicum plants are used for both food and medicinal purposes. These health benefits include reducing pain, improving mood, improving heart health, and potentially reducing cancer and Alzheimer’s risk. Capsicum peppers also are legendary for dares and personality traits. Capsicum is also synonymous with the word spice as well!

Maybe a great first date conversation should include hot peppers.  As popular as personality scales are, you could pretty quickly figure out some things about a person’s personality as well by asking people about their preference for hot peppers.

This blog will explore the depths of our personality that are related to our food choices and how eating some capsicum foods may go a long way to keeping you healthy.

This post contains a link where I make a small percentage at no extra cost to you.  I only link to products I trust and use myself.

What is Capsicum?

Capsicum comes in many varieties, and the mild forms are usually referred to as bell peppers or sweet peppers. The spicy varieties are called chilies. While black pepper has heat qualities, it is not related to capsicum.

Most capsicums have pungent qualities of varying degrees.  Where does the heat come from?  It comes from a substance called capsaicin.

There are around 40 species of capsicum, varying from Capsicum Annum, or bell peppers, to Capsicum Chinese, or ghost peppers. Among these species, there are a LOT of varieties.  This is why you will see new hybrids of peppers popping up on the market frequently.

Thousands of varieties of capsicum peppers exist but only a half dozen make it to a typical supermarket.  The tremendous variety of peppers bring not only the heat but some very complex flavors as well, depending on the type of peppers you choose.

What is Capsaicin?

Capsicum benefits are in large part due to a compound called capsaicin. Capsaicin is an active compound that gives peppers their pungent qualities.  Capsaicin is an irritant too, under some circumstances, as most people have found out the hard way!

Capsicum all have capsaicin, with the exception of bell peppers, so is this the common health compound among them.  Capsaicin is the substance that is responsible for making hot peppers seem “hot” even though they are not technically warm at all.

Why do peppers taste hot? Our perception of heat from hot peppers is actually a sensation perceived by your nervous system, not a taste. We have no taste receptors for capsaicin.  You are feeling pain created by Substance P (named P for pain).

Capsaicin plays a role in heat and temperature regulation.  How?  It is an agonist for the transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1), which is involved in heat and regulation of heat in the body.

The Hot Pepper Heat Scale

Capsicum heat rating is based on a scale called Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The higher the number, the more pungent the “heat”.  Jalapeno pepper is between 2,500-8000 SHU, while the infamous ghost pepper is between 855,000 – 1,041,427 SHU, well over a hundred times the amount of jalapeno.

A poblano, one of my favorites for flavor, has around 1000-3500 SHU.

I have tried a ghost pepper; it isn’t insurmountable.  Don’t try it without some consideration of the amount and context! I suggest making your choice of pepper not just about heat, but also about making foods taste good.

Love of Hot Peppers and Personality

If your date likes capsaicin, they may also like a fast drive or roller coasters and other thrills. If they can’t handle the hot pepper heat, they are more likely to enjoy the predictable comforts of home. But then again, most everything we do is a reflection of our personality, is it not?

The desire to eat hot, spicy foods is driven by personality, at least in part.  The reasons to desire capsaicin may differ by gender. Women tend to eat more spicy foods if they are sensation-seeking, and for men, they may eat it to show how much machismo they have.

If you like safety and comfort foods, you might want to find a partner similar to you, or train yourself to buckle in for a ride.

Personality does appear to be closely related to food preferences.  People preferring sweet foods might just be, well, more sweet in disposition, while preference for bitter flavor portends a more malevolent personality. Science has yet to suggest what type of personality you may have if you like all foods, like me.

People who eat more capsaicin have a lower mortality rate than those who don’t. It may behoove you to step outside your comfort zone, eat some peppers for the following health benefits.

Capsicum Nutrition Facts

Capsicum are rich in nutrients.  Fresh peppers contain a lot vitamin C: they have greater than 100% recommended daily intake in just 1/2 cup! Cooked or dried peppers will have less of the water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins.

Nutrition Content of Raw Green Bell Pepper

Per half cup, raw green bell pepper contains:

  • Calories: 15
  • Protein 1 g
  • Carbohydrate 3 g
  • Fiber 1 g
  • Potassium 130 mg
  • Vitamin C 60 mg
  • Niacin 0.36 mg
  • Vitamin B6 0.2 mg
  • Vitamin E 0.28 mg

 

Nutrition Content of Dried Chilies (per 2 tsp):

Red peppers are often dried.  Red pepper benefits include high nutrient content per volume. Dried capsicum retains minerals, many antioxidants, and can become concentrated sources of capsaicin.

  • Calories: 15
  • Vitamin E  2 mg
  • Vitamin A 80 mcg
  • Fiber  2 g
  • Potassium 105 mg
  • Iron 1 mg
  • Copper 0.05 mg

That is the amount in 2 tsp of dried peppers.

Source: WHFoods.com.

Capsicum is Rich in Antioxidants

Capsicum of all varieties contains high levels of antioxidants, which protect the body from toxins. Most of these antioxidants, also known as carotenoids, are pigments that give peppers their bright colors.

Capsicum health benefits are related to these antioxidant colors.

These pigments are many, and include:

Red Antioxidants

Capsanthin: Capsicum contains a unique antioxidant called capsanthin, which is a red pigment that may reduce the growth of cancer cells.

Beta-carotene: Beta carotene is a red-orange pigment found in the highest amount in green bell peppers.

Yellow Antioxidants

Zeaxanthin: Found in the highest amount in yellow peppers, zeaxanthin is an antioxidant that protects the eye from aging diseases like macular degeneration.

Violaxanthin: Yellow bell peppers contain a high amount of a yellow pigment called violaxanthin.

Lutein: Lutein is a yellow pigment that is highest in green bell peppers compared to other pepper varieties. Lutein helps protect eye health and may reduce cancer risk and heart disease risk.

Quercetin: Quercetin is a flavonoid pigment that may help protect nerves, reduce inflammation, reduce allergies, reduce infections, reduce blood pressure, and reduce heart disease, according to WebMD.

Green Antioxidant

Chlorophyll: Chlorophyll is an antioxidant found in all green plants. Chlorophyll levels are high in green bell peppers. Chlorophyll may help heal skin, reduce inflammation, increase blood cell health, detoxify, and acts as a natural deodorant, according to Healthline.com.

Capsicum Reduces Inflammation

Rich in antioxidants, capsicum helps the body reduce inflammation.  Inflammation is at the root of most, if not all, chronic illnesses today.  The capsaicin extract of capsicum reduces inflammation compounds in cell and animal studies.

For example, capsicum reduced lung inflammation due to its high antioxidant content in an animal study. Capsicum also reduced inflammation caused by antigens by reducing the production of inflammatory compounds called cytokines.

Capsicum also reduces inflammation by reducing:

  • prostaglandin E2
  • histamine
  • myeloperoxidase
  • nitric oxide
  • TNF alpha

Capsicum for Pain

Can something that inflicts pain temporarily also heal other types of pain?

Capsaicin affects substance P, or literally, substance Pain.  This is a chemical that causes a pain signal via the nervous system.  Capsaicin increases substance P, but on further exposure, will deplete this pain signaling. The brain responds to the pain by releasing another class of neurotransmitter known as endorphins.

Capsaicin may even prevent the use of dangerous opiates.

Research has also shown that you can prevent burning side effects of capsaicin largely by pretreatment with lidocaine topically or doxepin. You can also use a low dose. Doses of capsaicin cream at 0.025% to 0.075% have minimal side effects that diminish with continued use.

Capsicum can also reduce pain when it is eaten as well by dampening inflammation from the inside. Be aware that applying or eating capsaicin can cause an intense burning sensation if not used correctly.

Another important nutrient you will want to consider is vitamin D3 for joint pain.

Arthritis Relief

Arthritis pain occurs in the joints and includes the two main types called osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.  Arthritis pain is challenging to treat and many drug options have health risks if used long-term.

A review paper examined over 2000 people who received either topical capsaicin cream or placebo for their arthritic pain.  Doses ranged from 0.025% to 0.075% up to 4 times daily. The researchers concluded that capsaicin cream is effective for the treatment of osteoarthritis pain in combination with a healthy diet and exercise.

Capsaicin cream also helps rheumatoid arthritis, according to The Arthritis Foundation. In fact, pain relief dropped by 50 percent after 3 weeks of use.

Fibromyalgia Relief

In a randomized research study of fibromyalgia patients, topical capsaicin reduced pain and improved health more than the standard treatment.

For the capsaicin group, both the myalgia score and global score improved.  Even six weeks after the end of the treatment, the experimental group showed significant improvements in depression, myalgia, emotional regulation, fatigue, and pain.

Neuropathy Relief

Capsaicin’s actions in the body are very complicated, but some robust research confirms that it is effective for pain relief, especially for neuropathic pain and post-surgical pain.

What is even more fascinating, when a solution of topical capsaicin of 8% is applied via prescriptive patch, a significant reduction of pain resulted, for a full 12 weeks after a single application for post-herpetic neuralgia pain.

Amazing pain-relief facts:  Capsaicin cream continues to reduce neuropathy and fibromyalgia pain for 6 to 12 weeks  after stopping use

May Reduce Alzheimer’s Disease

At this point, lifestyle changes are very promising for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.  We can eat a whole foods diet to reduce risk as well as have an active lifestyle and increase sleep quality.

Spices have a lot of benefits for maintaining brain function, and their uses for cognitive function are vast. For example, capsaicin content of the diet is related to improved brain function and total blood amyloid beta levels in people over age 40.

Use of capsaicin reduced a protein that is altered in Alzheimer’s disease called tau protein in a rat study. The authors of this study speculate that because capsaicin is an agonist for TRPV1, it may protect brain function.  TRPV1 is found in the hippocampus, striatum, hypothalamus, and cerebellum of humans.

Capsaicin also reduced stress-induced memory loss in rats as well.

While it is too soon to know if capsicum can help prevent Alzheimer’s, its ability to help diabetes and other health aspects make it look like a promising add-on for prevention and possibly treatment.

 

Capsicum Health Benefits Infographic by The Healthy RD

Capsicum Reduces Blood Glucose

Hot peppers reduce excessive insulin and glucose levels after a meal with regular intake, even in healthy adults, according to randomized trials.

How? Capsicum extract improved insulin sensitivity and reduces inflammation in pancreatic tissue.

Also, by reducing the activation of the autoimmune response in the pancreas, capsicum may help prevent diabetes as well (12) (13).

Helps Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disorder that is very challenging to treat. Use of topical capsaicin cream is a very promising treatment option.

In research, topical capsaicin at 0.025 percent concentration reduced itching and psoriasis symptoms after 6 weeks of treatment. Capsaicin also reduced scaling and redness compared to placebo in a double-blind trial.

Hot Pepper Mood Benefits

Capsicum, especially from hot peppers, can increase the release of happy brain chemicals called endorphins and dopamine. We love endorphins released from eating hot peppers because they block the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals.

Endorphins are partly responsible for feelings of pleasure, sexuality/sensually and euphoria or “bliss,” if you will, providing a sense of well-being.

Endorphins are opiate-like chemicals that are made inside the body, so this is how hot peppers may seem addictive, without the downside of opiates.

The neurotransmitter dopamine, responsible for a sense of reward and pleasure, is also released as a type of endorphin when capsaicin is eaten.

Capsaicin may also help with vasodilation, which helps blood flow, an important role in cardiovascular and sexual health.

Pain and anticipation are fun from hot peppers. Think of the kind of like the people who like to read crime novels for the thrill of it; they also get an endorphin rush. But whatever you do, don’t rub your eyes after cutting or touching hot peppers. You will regret that decision.

Weight Loss

People who eat more capsaicin tend to weigh less.  It helps people feel full and satisfied from eating. It may also activate brown adipose tissue, which is a good thing.

Brown adipose tissue activation creates thermogenesis or heat-building effects, and this burns calories.

Hot peppers may also reduce the total amount of fat tissue and increase fat mobilization from fat tissue to be burned as calories.

The change in body weight may be minor, but considering that the overall trajectory of obesity in the world is so daunting, any benefit should be considered as an important one.

The context of overall benefits to reducing diabetes risk, heart disease risk, and digestive disorders, as you will soon find out,  Benefits to weight is just one of many reasons to consider adding spicy foods to your day.

Heart Benefits

Capsaicin may slow down the process of atherosclerosis or heart disease. How?

Cellular clean-up is known as autophagy.  Capsaicin causes autophagy of damaging LDL cholesterol that has been oxidized. Autophagy is just the body’s way of cleaning up the body from damaging substances.

Capsicum also may help prevent heart disease by:

  • Reducing the oxidation or damage of LDL
  • Antioxidant protection of the arteries
  • Preventing platelet aggregation as well, meaning it helps the fluidity of platelets.
  • Promote cholesterol export out of dangerous foam cells
  • Reducing plaque formation inside the artery

Topical capsaicin patches may help patients with heart pain called angina as well.

Stomach Benefits

Capsicum may seem hot in the stomach, and for a long time, people with stomach issues have been told to avoid hot peppers. Contrary to popular belief, hot peppers don’t increase the risk of stomach ulcers. Capsicum is likely protective for the stomach, in fact.

Capsaicin protected the stomach from the damage of alcohol in healthy volunteers in a randomized study. Capsicum intake is related to a reduction in gastric ulcers caused by H.Pylori infections.

Two population studies suggest that hot peppers protect against stomach ulcers.  But if you have a stomach ulcer, please see your doctor!

Bonus: hot peppers may reduce the release of gastric acid.

Reduces Nasal Inflammation

Nasal inflammation is common and is referred to as rhinitis. Symptoms include sneezing, dripping nose, congestion, and post-nasal drip.  Rhinitis can be related to allergies or can be non-allergic. However, non-allergic forms are tied to antibodies called IgE as well.

Capsaicin may reduce non-allergic non-infectious rhinitis by desensitizing sensory nerves and reducing hyper-responsiveness. In a review of over 300 patients, use of a capsaicin nasal spray with several treatments over 1 day reduced symptoms of rhinitis for 36 weeks after one day of treatment.

Amazing capsaicin fact:  Capsaicin continued to work for 36 weeks AFTER discontinuation of treatment for rhinitis

Strengthens Swallow Function

Many people have reduced swallowing function as they age. Swallow function can be impaired due to weakened reflexes with age, stroke or neurological disorders as well.  This puts people at increased risk of aspiration pneumonia.

Four studies show that capsaicin is effective at improving swallowing function in these settings.  They found that capsaicin effectively increased swallowing reflexes. Capsaicin may help stimulate coughing and swallow reflex in cases of aspiration pneumonia.

Here are the populations that have been studied:

Most studies use aural stimulation for swallow improvement:  How? simply adding capsaicin cream to a swab and adding it to the aural canal twice a day.

Demonstration of aural stimulation by The Healthy RD

Reduces Hot Flashes

In a randomized placebo-controlled trial, a homeopathic dose of hot peppers was given to determine effectiveness for hot flashes. Use of hot peppers reduced hot flashes and global well-being compared to placebo in 40 women over 4 weeks.

Larger trials are needed, but the treatment is certainly safe to try to help relieve the discomfort of hot flashes.

Capsaicin May Reduce Cancer Risk

Data is mostly in favor of capsaicin for reducing cancer risk. Capsaicin reduced the growth or spread cancer cells in 40 different cancer cell lines, including breast, esophageal, colon, and immune cells.

Human population studies show that capsicum is likely protective against most types of cancer. The risk for cancer seems to be reduced with most types examined with the exception of gastric cancer.

Interpretation of studies like these are important; for example,  hot peppers seemed to increase gastric cancer risk at the level of 9 jalapenos peppers per day.  This seems like a LOT of peppers.

How To Increase Heat Tolerance of Peppers

Tolerance to capsaicin can increase as you get older.  But more importantly, if you repeatedly eat spicy foods, your tongue becomes adapted to spice, and even becomes desensitized to capsaicin.

By affecting substance P, capsaicin can decrease pain.  The pain that it caused in the first place. Whoa.

How? Capsaicin depletes substance P, which is responsible for pain sensation. It literally decreases the neurotransmission of pain.

Capcaisin activates a substance that increases then decreases pain.  This substance is called transient receptor potential channel vanilloid subfamily member 1 (TRPV1).

Are vanilla and peppers related? Yes, vanilla and capsaicin are ironically similar in structure, yet drastically different in taste. Eugenol, another substance related to vanilla, is found in bay leaves, allspice, and oil of cloves.

Good or bad, our tastes buds tend to decrease after age 40. If this is you, it is a good time to add more heat for flavor instead of that salt shaker. More importantly, start young so that you can reap the health benefits earlier. Food will taste better and become even healthier.

{Please note that this post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.}

How To Use Capsicum and Capsaicin

Capsaicin is widely available in all varieties of hot peppers with varying degrees of “heat”. It is also available in supplements and also topical skin applications for pain syndromes.

Capsaicin Patch

Patches are available for localized pain and can be especially beneficial for back pain. Patches don’t require application with gloves, as creams do.

You still may benefit from adding topical lidocaine first to minimize burning sensation that can occur for some people. You can find capsaicin patches here.

Capsule Form

Capsules for oral administration are available for uses such as appetite regulation.

Generally recognized as safe, no known upper limit of supplemental capsaicin exists.

A form of supplemental cayenne that I like is this one.

Nasal Spray

Capsaicin is also available in nasal sprays for the treatment of rhinitis. As above, often one day of use is very effective to keep nasal congestion away for a long period of time.

A great nasal spray is this one. Keep in mind, it will burn, but usually for only 30 to 60 seconds and you then will be rewarded with clear air passages.

Massage oil

You can also use a capsaicin massage oil like this one to reduce muscle soreness and various types of pain.  A reminder: capsaicin can cause a burning sensation, but reduces with subsequent use, generally.  Applying lidocaine topically before applying capsaicin oil may reduce discomfort.

Capsaicin Cream

Topical capsaicin cream is a popular option for pain.  Remember, do not take a hot shower after application.  Also, keep in mind, any burning sensation should subside with continued use as described above.  A good topical capsaicin cream is this one.

Cooking with Capsicum

Add capsicum peppers to any meal to increase the flavor profile and antioxidant content.  Get creative! Slowly increase the heat of peppers by using this Scoville Scale chart:

Capsicum Scoville Scale by The Healthy RD

You can add chilies to:

  • chocolate
  • vegetable dishes, especially delicious with cruciferous vegetables
  • coffee
  • teas
  • baked treats
  • soups
  • stews
  • salad dressings
  • melted cheese

Most importantly, learn to enjoy the adventure and endorphins that hot peppers may bring to you on your plate.

You may not want to go back to bland foods ever again.

Cooking with Capsicum

I am a big fan of almost every kind of foods, and hot peppers are no exception.  On any given day, I have at least 5 different kinds of hot sauces available and have numerous capsaicin-rich spice preparations.

My favorite one right now is called Devil’s Envy Spice.

While it is VERY hot (around 30,000 SHU), the flavor is rewarding, complex, and smoky.   I do like to share my favorite food tricks, and this is one.  The hot peppers are in a garlic and oil combination that give the tongue a “slow simmer.”

My favorite way to serve it is mixed with olive oil.  I put it on mashed potatoes and it was simply dreamy!

It works on just about any dish to help flavor it without all the added salt.  According to Michael Farca, the inventor of the spice, keep it at the table instead of the salt shaker. I know it’s working for me.

 

Precautions

Check with your healthcare provider before taking large amounts, but capsaicin has Generally Regarded As Safe status by the FDA. Avoid contact of capsaicin with eyes.

A small percentage of people have reactions to nightshade plants.  If you notice that eating foods like peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, or potatoes aggravate pain for you, try eliminating to see if your symptoms improve.

Although rare, allergy or sensitivity to peppers can cause serious reactions.  Call your doctor right away if you have blistering or swelling or unusual pain.

Other Natural Pain Relievers

Want to boost pain relief?  Read my post about frankincense essential oil.

Get a Natural Solutions kit to help empower your health today.

 

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