The first thoughts that come to mind when people think of chili pepper are the many uses within a wide variety of cuisines. However, many cultures have known the medicinal properties and health benefits of chili peppers and have used them for reasons beyond cooking for thousands of years. The main ingredient produced by a pepper is called Capsaicin. This element is what gives the pepper its spicy properties, as well as the additional physical benefits of the spice. Though it may taste spicy and hot, this chemical actually stimulates the area of the brain responsible for lowering body temperature, making it a popular ingredient in the diets of those in climates that experience extreme heat.
There are a wide variety of applications of Capsaicin, for food, medicinal, and other purposes. Chili pepper is a popular spice within many cuisines, including Southwestern, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, and Cajun cooking styles. This spice can give the foods a spicy kick unmatched by any other spice available. Many cultures have found that the Capsaicin in peppers is a wonderful treatment for a variety of stomach related problems and diseases, plus it can help treat frostbite and even muscle pain. One of the most popular medical uses for Capsaicin is for the topical treatment of pain. There are many lotions, ointments, and creams developed specifically to treat a wide range of skin, joint, and muscle conditions topically with the Capsaicin derived from chili peppers.
Some of the medical problems that can be treated with remedies that include chili peppers or derivatives of their ingredients include:
• Shingles – which is a painful skin condition caused by the chicken pox virus. Capsaicin cream is often prescribed after the blistering stage of the disease to help control the skin and muscle pain associated with the illness.
• Cluster Headaches - Recurrent, severe headaches have been successfully treated by applying Capsaicin inside the nose.
• Joint and Muscle Pain – Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and a wide variety of other joint and muscle conditions are also commonly treated with Capsaicin creams and lotions.
• Psoriasis – Capsaicin creams are frequently used to relieve the redness, Itching, and irritation of the recurring dry, swollen, and flaky skin of psoriasis.
• Other Various Medical Uses – Chili pepper can also be used to relieve post surgical pain, low back pain, nerve damage due to diabetes, and for Weight Loss.
Many other medical uses are being investigated to find out the effects of chili peppers and Capsaicin on these diseases. Researchers are investigating the results of using these spices and their associated chemicals to treat ear infections, Heart disease, stomach ulcers, and many other common physical ailments. Though more research is needed, there are promising results in early studies that may lead to innovative new uses of the chili pepper.
The chili, or Cayenne, pepper grows in mostly tropical and subtropical regions. The fruit produced by this bush tends to be long and can vary in color from red to orange, or even yellow. The fruit and seeds of this plant are what contain the Capsaicin and are the parts used in both cooking and medicine.
The active ingredient in chili pepper is Capsaicin, which provides the spice and heat of the pepper. Capsaicin is found in its highest concentrations within the flesh of the pepper, then the veins, and lastly the seeds. The fruits also contain other essential nutrients such as vitamins A and C, plus carotenoids and flavonoids.
Chili peppers are available in their natural form for use in cooking or to be consumed raw. Chili powder and flakes are available as seasoning spices or to be added to liquids to reap the medicinal benefits of Capsaicin. There are a wide range of topical creams, solutions, and pills for treatment of different disorders.
Care should be taken when administering Capsaicin to small children and should not be used in babies under two years of age. In older children, topical solutions of chili pepper can be used to treat minor pain or the muscles or to help assist in deterring thumb sucking. These products are not advisable for use for more than two days unless directed by a physician.
In adults, topical treatments containing Capsaicin should be used as directed on the products packaging. Generally, you can apply these treatments to the affected area up to four times a day for optimal relief. At first, you may experience some Itching or burning when using Capsaicin products. However, this will disappear quickly and within a week, the pain relief will be considerable.
Additionally, other issues, such as stomach problems, can be treated by doses of up to 120 mg, three times daily, when ingested as a capsule or also dissolved in a liquid by using a quarter to a half teaspoon to a cup of liquid.
As with any herb or medicine, you should seek a doctor or other trained professional’s advice when using any home remedy for treatment. Taking care that these natural products will not cause an adverse reaction with another remedy or drug you are currently taking can prevent a host of potential problems.
Great care should also be taken when handling any product containing a heat-producing element such as Capsaicin. Do not allow the product to get into an open sore or wound as irritation may occur. Be sure to wash your hands well and not touch the eyes after using Capsaicin products or after handling chili peppers in any form. Vinegar can be used to aid in removing the residues from these products from the skin. Avoid direct heat, such as heating pads or hot showers, immediately after applications of topical products.
Those with food allergies should pay attention to their reactions when either ingesting chili peppers or using topical solutions containing the by products of peppers.
Women who are breastfeeding should use these products sparingly, as the spices may be transferred to the infant through breast milk.
Always check with a doctor before starting any treatment to exclude the possibility of adverse interactions between drugs and herbs you are currently taking. Though generally safe, a few drugs are known to cause a possible undesirable reaction when paired with Capsaicin.
Though it has not been medically proven, care should also be taken by those who take blood thinning medication or herbs, as it may increase the effectiveness of anticoagulants.
Those who take theophylline for asthma treatment should avoid regular use of chili pepper products, as they can cause increased absorption of the drugs and cause a possible issue of toxicity.