Many people consider cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum) to be the king of medicinal herbs. Master herbalist and natural doctor, Dr. Richard Shulze says, “if you master only one herb in your life, master cayenne pepper, it is more powerful than any other.” Quite the honor for a spice most people keep in their cupboard!
Cayenne peppers are a type of chili pepper, closely related to bell peppers and jalapeños. They fall under the nightshade family, and are native to Central and South America. It wasn’t until the 15th century that they made their way to Europe, brought over by Christopher Columbus. While they’ve maintained their presence as a popular cooking spice, cayenne peppers have also been used medicinally for thousands of years. These peppers boast an impressive nutritional profile, including a variety of beneficial antioxidants.
The Beneficial Properties of Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper contains vitamins A, E, C, B6 and K, as well as Manganese, Potassium, and Riboflavin. Capsaicin, the same active ingredient that gives the peppers their hot taste, is also what gives them their medicinal properties. The more capsaicin in cayenne pepper, that hotter you’ll find it!
Capsaicin has metabolism-boosting properties. By helping increase the amount of heat your body produces, making you burn more calories per day. This process is called diet-induced thermogenesis.
In a single study, people who ate breakfast that contained capsaicin and medium-chain triglyceride oil, burned 51% more calories during that mealmeak, compared to the control group, which had neither.
Animal studies have shown that capsaicin also plays a helpful role in reducing high blood pressure. High blood pressure poses one of the greatest health risks worldwide, affecting more than 40% of adults over 25.
A study observing mice found that long-term consumption of dietary spices containing capsaicin helped decrease their blood pressure. Capsaicin had the same effect in a separate study, relaxing blood vessels in pigs, therefore leading to lower blood pressure.
Capsaicin is not just effective internally; it has strong pain-relieving properties if added to a cream and used on the skin. The ingredient is able to tackle pain because it helps reduce the amount of substance P, a neuropeptide that travels to the brain to signal pain. When the amount of substance P is decreased, pain signals are unable to reach the brain, in turn decreasing feelings of pain.
Topical use of capsaicin through creams has been recommended for:
- Joint and muscle pain
- Lower back pain
- Pain after surgery
- Pain from nerve conditions like shingles
Cayenne pepper can also help boost the stomach’s defense against infections, and aids digestion by increasing digestive fluid production, and help deliver enzymes to the stomach. It stimulates nerves in the stomach that signal for protection against injury. While some believe that spicy foods can lead to stomach ulcers, a review paper has found that capsaicin may actually help reduce the risk of ulcers, so keep eating spicy food fans!
Capsaicin also shows promise in reducing the risk of cancer, by attacking different pathways in the cancer cell growth process. Studies have in fact shown that capsaicin can not only slow the growth of cancer cells, but even cause cell death for various types of cancer including prostate, pancreatic and skin cancer.
More Than Spice - Cayenne Pepper Is a Medicine
Cayenne peppers can do so much more than add flavor to your favorite recipe. With its multiple health benefits and medicinal properties, especially as a result of capsaicin, they help boost the metabolism, reduce high blood pressure, relieve pain, and have even been used in the treatment of some cancers. Cayenne pepper is also rich in antioxidants, helping to eliminate damaging free radicals.
It’s clear to see why so many herbalists and natural health practitioners turn to cayenne for its healing properties. For thousands of years, cayenne peppers have been regarding as a powerful medicinal herb and culinary spice, and the capsaicin within pepper holds amazing healing potential.