Cayenne pepper is more than just a spice that adds some zing to your food. This pepper is one of the oldest medicinal herbs. Many countries in South America and Asia have used this spice both in foods and in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Cayenne pepper benefits our health in many ways such as it helps relieve pain, increase metabolic rate and boosts immunity.
Read on to learn more how cayenne pepper benefits our health, its medicinal properties, and its potential side effects.
What is cayenne pepper?
Cayenne pepper is a type of Capsicum annum. These red chili peppers are usually 10 to 25 cm long, skinny and have a curved tip and rippled skin. This spice originated in South and Central America, the West Indies, and Mexico.
Cayenne pepper was introduced to the rest of the world, especially the Indian subcontinent, by the Portuguese and Spanish explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries.
They are now one of the most important commercial crops grown in India, Pakistan, China, Argentina and the US.
This perennial shrub reaches about 100 cm in height. Cayenne chilies turn deep-red when they ripen, and they have numerous tiny cream colored seeds inside.
The intense spicy taste of the cayenne pepper comes from its active alkaloid compounds capsaicin, capsanthin and capsorubin.
Capsaicin is also used for different ailments as it has pain relieving properties.
Cayenne pepper benefits on health are the result of its nutritional profile. It is exceptionally nutritious, which is why it has been used medicinally for thousands of years.
On the Scoville rating scale, cayenne pepper is rated between 30,000 to 190,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). It contains many antioxidants which are extremely beneficial for health.
Just 5 grams of cayenne pepper contains (1) –
- Calories: 17
- Carbohydrates: 3 grams
- Fiber: 1.4 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Protein: .6 grams
- Vitamin A: 44% of RDI
- Vitamin C: 7% of RDI
- Vitamin B6: 6% of RDI
- Vitamin K: 5% of RDI
- Vitamin E: 8% of RDI
- Manganese: 5% of RDI
- Potassium: 3% of RDI
- Riboflavin: 3% of RDI
Cayenne pepper benefits
There are several ways in which cayenne pepper benefits our health. It is, in fact, considered as the king of medicinal plants.
The main active ingredient in cayenne pepper is capsaicin, which is a thermogenic chemical. Thermogenic chemicals help speed up metabolism and curb hunger.
During a 2003 study, ten healthy women were given 5 grams of fresh chili pepper, and their metabolic rate was measured before and for 60 minutes after eating. The study concluded that the metabolic rate increased after ingestion and sustained for 30 minutes (2).
In another, more recent study, seven healthy volunteers who ate a breakfast containing capsaicin and medium-chain triglyceride oil burned 50 percent more calories during that meal (3).
Capsaicin does help in boosting metabolism, but its effects are small. Also, the bodies of the people who eat cayenne peppers regularly adapt to it over time, and they do not reap the same benefits.
2. Helps digestion
One of the biggest cayenne pepper benefits is also seen in better digestion. It helps produce saliva which is essential for digestive health, and it also prevents bad breath.
These peppers stimulate the digestive tract by increasing the flow of enzyme production and gastric juices. This boosts the stomach’s defense against infections, increases digestive fluid production and aids digestion (5).
Cayenne pepper benefits are also seen in lowering blood pressure. This spice has been used in Ayurvedic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean medicines to treat many ailments including high blood pressure.
According to a 2010 study, when mice consumed capsaicin, it activated a receptor called TRPV-1 which helps lower blood pressure (7).
According to another study that was published in Current Medicinal Chemistry Cardiovascular Hematological Agents, capsaicin affects sensory nerves that work with neuro-hormonal systems to lower blood pressure.
Capsaicin also helps relax blood vessels in pigs, which helps lower blood pressure (8).
More studies need to be done to confirm the effect of cayenne on humans.
4. Prevents blood clots
Blood clots lead to blockages in the arteries and blood vessels and restrict blood flow through the circulatory system. When these blood clots prevent supply to the brain or the heart, they can be fatal.
5. Helps relieve pain
Cayenne pepper benefits in relieving pain due to its active ingredient capsaicin. Capsaicin has strong pain relieving properties when applied on the skin.
It helps reduce substance P, a neuropeptide produced by the body that carries pain messages to the brain (11). When there is less substance P, the pain signals do not reach the brain, and the pain is reduced.
Capsaicin skin cream is often recommended for joint pain, muscle pain, and lower back pain. It helps alleviate pain caused by nerve damage in legs and feet due to diabetes.
Pain due to shingles, neuropathy, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis is also treated with capsaicin (12).
Several studies have also found that capsaicin is helpful in relieving pain after surgeries like mastectomy and amputation.
6. Relieves migraine pain
Around 37 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches. Migraines affect more women than men. According to research, cayenne pepper can induce pain in a different part of the body. This diverts the attention of the brain to the new site and helps relieve pain.
In addition to this, cayenne pepper contains substance P, which helps reduce pain sensation. Capsaicin, when applied topically, causes a brief initial sensitization which is followed by prolonged desensitization of the local pain nerves (13).
According to one study, when 23 people with a migraine applied capsaicin topically, they found that the pain reduced by more than 50 percent (14).
7. Improve psoriasis
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes a rapid build-up of skin cells that lead to the formation of whitish-silver scales and thick red patches.
Though there is no cure for psoriasis currently, capsaicin creams can help relieve the itching and appearance of the affected area (15).
During a trial on 44 patients with psoriasis lesions, the patients applied capsaicin cream over a period of three to six weeks. At the end of the study, they noticed a significant reduction in scaling and erythema.
Burning, stinging, itchiness and redness of the skin also diminished (16).
8. Helps reduce cancer risk
Recent research has found that capsaicin can reduce the speed of cancer cell growth and increase the rate of death in the triple-negative cancer cells.
Capsaicin attacks the different pathways in the cancer cell growth process, and this can reduce the risk of cancer (17).
According to one study done at the University of California, capsaicin in cayenne pepper can inhibit the growth of cancerous cells and also prevent the activation of new formations (18). This may have a role in the management of prostate cancer.
Capsaicin can also stop the formation of tobacco-induced tumors in the lungs, according to Loma Linda University, California.
9. Has anti-fungal properties
Cayenne pepper helps kill fungus and prevents the formation of fungal pathogens. It is effective against 16 different strains of fungus, including candida.
Candida aids in nutrient absorption and digestion. However, when it is overproduced, it can cause hormonal imbalance, joint pain, digestive problems and a weak immune system.
10. Relieves congestion
Cayenne pepper benefits our immune system since it contains beta-carotene and antioxidants. It helps to break up and move congested mucus. This helps in reducing the symptoms of cold and flu.
Cayenne pepper also contains vitamin C, which helps get rid of colds. Cayenne also increases the body temperature, which makes you sweat. This boosts the activity of the immune system.
11. Rich source of vitamin A
Cayenne peppers are the richest source of vitamin A amongst all the spices. Just two teaspoons of cayenne pepper give you your recommended dose for vitamin A in the day.
These peppers also provide antioxidant flavonoids such as carotenes, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin. These antioxidants help protect the body from the harmful effects of free radicals.
Vitamin A is critical for healthy vision, healthy skin and neurological function. Studies have also shown that antioxidants like vitamin A help improve eye health, boost immunity and foster cell growth (19).
12. Contains vitamin C
Fresh cayenne peppers are a rich in vitamin C. Just 100 grams of fresh cayenne peppers can provide around 76.4 mg of vitamin C, which is about 127% of the daily required amount.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant which is essential for the collagen synthesis in the body. Collagen plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, organs, skin, and bones.
Vitamin C also helps protect the body from scurvy, boosts immunity and fights against inflammation-causing free radicals.
13. Rich in Vitamin E
Our body organs need vitamin E to function well. This vitamin also helps in slowing down aging and helps to lower cholesterol.
Cayenne pepper is an excellent source of vitamin E, which helps fight free radicals, improves skin health, balances hormones, improves vision and increases energy levels.
14. Helps with weight loss
You might wonder if I tell you that consuming cayenne pepper benefits in weight loss too. Not only does it reduce appetite, but it also boosts metabolism. Many studies have shown that this pepper can help alleviate hunger.
According to a study on 13 female Japanese subjects, consuming cayenne peppers decreased appetite and subsequent protein and fat intakes. Similar results were found in a study that involved ten male Caucasian subjects (20).
This happens because cayenne pepper reduces the production of hunger hormone ghrelin (21).
Side effects of cayenne pepper
Although, cayenne pepper benefits our health in so many ways, still, people can also suffer from some of its side effects.
1. Gastrointestinal problems
Though cayenne pepper benefits in the improvement of overall digestive health, it can cause stomach irritation in some people.
If you suffer from heartburn, stomach, and intestinal ulcers or irritable bowel syndrome, check with your doctor before taking cayenne pepper.
2. Allergic reaction
Some people can develop an allergic reaction to cayenne peppers. The symptoms include difficulty in breathing, chest pain, tightness in the throat, skin rashes, hives, and itchy and swollen skin.
3. Kidney and liver damage
Taking too much capsaicin can lead to kidney and liver damage. So, it is advisable not to take more than the recommended dose. People already suffering from liver and kidney ailments should avoid cayenne peppers.
4. Not recommended for breastfeeding mothers
Some babies may develop a skin condition called erythematous dermatitis if their mothers eat foods flavored with cayenne peppers. Erythematous dermatitis can cause skin scaling and peeling.
Over to you on cayenne pepper benefits
Cayenne pepper benefits our health in several ways such as weight loss, pain relief, lower blood pressure and reduced risk of cancer.
Though capsaicin, which is a thermogenic chemical, is responsible for most of its health benefits, cayenne pepper also contains vitamin A, C, and E which are highly beneficial.
Cayenne peppers cause side effects in some people, so make sure you check with your doctor if you are worried about any medicine interactions.