Medical Benefits of Cayenne Pepper

by Robert Shifko

About Robert Shifko

Robert Shifko has more than 17 years' experience in the health care industry. Throughout his career, he has gained experience in pharmacologic research, clinical nuclear medicine, and most recently radiation health physics. He has obtained several certifications in nuclear medicine, epidemiology, biostatistics and as a medical radiation safety officer. He has always supported LIVESTRONG.

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Overview

Also known as Guinea spice, cayenne pepper is a powdered form of red hot chili pepper. This pepper serves as a flavoring and adds spice to culinary dishes. The active ingredient in cayenne pepper is called capsacin, the substance that gives the pepper its spiciness. The greater the concentration of capsaicin, the hotter the pepper will be. It also contains beta carotene. Cayenne pepper primarily derives its health benefits from the presence of capsaicin and beta carotene.

Pain Relief

According to a February 2008 edition of the Johns Hopkins Health Alerts, capsaicin can relieve joint pain from arthritis. It does so by reducing the amount of a nerve chemical called substance P. Substance P normally releases inflammation-causing enzymes throughout the body, which can in turn send a pain signal to the brain. Thus, reducing the amount of substance P decreases the pain signals in your brain. According to herbalist John Christopher, capsaicin can also reduce pain from other inflammatory conditions, including bowel disorders. It works whether you ingest it in the form of a pill or apply it as an ointment. However, pain returns soon after you stop using it.

Cardiovascular Benefits

In her book "The Chili Pepper Diet," former medical representative Heidi Allison attributes cardiovascular benefits to the capsaicin content of cayenne pepper. Capsaicin causes blood vessels to dilate, says Allison. This can increase blood flow, lower blood pressure and promote healing in the body. Consuming cayenne pepper may also increase blood flow to your heart and strengthen the contractions of the blood vessels that supply the rest of your body with blood.

Immune System Benefits

According to the Wexner Medical Center, adding cayenne pepper to your diet may help boost your immune system. Indeed, in addition to capsaicin, cayenne pepper contains carotenoids, as well as vitamins A and C. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for tissue health, while capsaicin, carotenoids and vitamin C all have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help rid your body of cell-damaging substances called free radicals. They are not only important for cancer and heart disease prevention, but can also defend your body against disease-causing organisms.

Stomach and Gut Ulcer Prevention

Spicy foods often get the blame for stomach ulcer formation, and chili peppers are no exception. However, in a 2005 edition of the journal "Annals of Microbiology," researcher Fadile Zeyrek and colleagues reported that the capsaicin in cayenne pepper actually has antimicrobial properties. Specifically, it can kill Helicobacter pylori, an organism that is associated with stomach and gut ulcers. According to herbalist John Christopher, cayenne pepper also promotes the production of protective buffering juices along the lining of your stomach and gut, which help prevent ulcer development.

Photo Credits:

  • sliced cayenne pepper image by Simone van den Berg from Fotolia.com

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.