Health Benefits of Capsaicin

Almost everyone knows what capsaicin is, though perhaps not by name. It’s the chemical in chili peppers that gives them their famous heat. This heat makes it ideal for spicing culinary dishes as well as providing a range of medicinal properties. Dating back to roughly 7000 years in Mexico, the capsaicin in chilli peppers have been known for its nutritional value being rich in vitamins and minerals, and for its antimicrobial and anticancer properties.

Capsaicin is the main ingredient in many therapeutic ointments, gels, and patches that are used for pain relief. It interacts with a receptor called TRPV1, which is found in the brain, peripheral nerves, bladder, blood vessels, and others. Since this receptor is so widely distributed throughout the body, there are many potential health benefits of capsaicin that haven’t been researched yet. 

Health Benefits

Since capsaicin is a molecule found within peppers, it doesn’t have any calories or nutrients and has no direct dietary influence. Instead, capsaicin binds to TRPV1, a channel of peripheral nerves that are made to detect internal or external sources of heat. Prolonged exposure to heat sources like capsaicin desensitizes these TRPV1 receptors over time, gradually making capsaicin more and more tolerable as the body gets used to it.

Capsaicin's health benefits include: 

Heart Health

Capsaicin’s anti-inflammatory qualities make it an effective supplement for promoting heart health. For example, a three-month study found that capsaicin significantly reduced the risk factors of heart disease in adults who had low HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels. 

Weight Loss

Studies have found that capsaicin can increase your metabolism, which increases the rate at which you use energy and burn fat stores. It can also lower your appetite, which may help you eat less than you normally would. 

Pain Relief

Capsaicin is a key ingredient in various pain relief medications. It can be used in the form of a cream, for example, or even as a patch for certain more specialized therapeutic applications. Capsaicin patches are applied at the doctor’s office to treat conditions like postherpetic neuralgia and others. 

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Health Risks

While capsaicin does have many health benefits, it's not for everyone. Some will be more sensitive to its effects than others, and many experience unpleasant side effects from capsaicin, especially if their bodies haven’t acclimated to the heat it causes. 

Some of the side effects of capsaicin include: 

Nausea and Vomiting

Capsaicin patches are sometimes used therapeutically for pain relief, but the higher concentrations of capsaicin could be problematic for some. Nausea and vomiting is a commonly reported side effect of these patches. 

Diarrhea  

The capsaicin in peppers is known to irritate the lining of the digestive tract, potentially causing an upset stomach and diarrhea. It may also cause food to be digested too quickly, which can make stool burn as it passes through the body..

Acid Reflux

Capsaicin can potentially worsen symptoms of acid reflux. The sensation of heat that it creates can irritate the lining of the stomach, possibly causing reflux, heartburn, and other uncomfortable effects. 

Amounts and Dosage

A clinical study of the use of capsaicin-based therapeutics for weight loss found that participants easily tolerated 6 milligrams of capsinoids taken orally each day for 12 weeks.

Another study followed 27 participants for four weeks as they ate approximately 30 grams of chopped chili per day without any observable impact on their health.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 10, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand: Effect of Chili Pepper (Capsicum Frutescens) Ingestion on Plasma Glucose Response and Metabolic Rate in Thai Women.”

Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility: “Effects of Chili Treatment on Gastrointestinal and Rectal Sensation in Diarrhea-predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Randomized, Double-blinded, Crossover Study.”

Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility: “Foods Inducing Typical Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Symptoms in Korea.”

Michigan Medicine: “Capsaicin.”

MOJ Food Processing & Technology: “Medicinal Uses and Health Benefits of Chili Pepper (Capsicum spp.): A Review.”

Nutrition: “Capsaicin Supplementation Improved Risk Factors of Coronary Heart Disease in Individuals with Low HDL-C Levels.”

StatPearls Publishing: “Capsaicin.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Effects of Novel Capsinoid Treatment on Fatness and Energy Metabolism in Humans: Possible Pharmacogenetic Implications.”

The British Journal of Nutrition: “Effects of Daily Ingestion of Chilli on Serum Lipoprotein Oxidation in Adult Men and Women.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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