Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne Pepper: Usage, Health Benefits & Side Effects

Cayenne peppers are skinny, red-colored fruits, often with rippled skin and a curved tip. These peppers are most commonly used in cuisine and for medical purposes.

For cooking, cayenne is used to add spice and heat dishes. In medicine, the pepper contains a valuable health-boosting compound known as capsaicin.

This article will provide detail on the cayenne pepper usage, benefits, and side effects. It will review a number of studies in order to weigh up the potential health benefits associated with it.


 

What is Cayenne Pepper?

Cayenne peppers are a type of chili pepper that is closely related to bell peppers and jalapeños. They are also commonly known as red hot chili peppers.

While native to Central and South America, Christopher Columbus introduced the cayenne pepper to Europe. Nowadays, it is grown in a number of subtropical countries.

Cayenne peppers are held in high regard for their medicinal properties. For thousands of years, the pepper has been used to combat a range of health issues.

They contain an abundance of substances, such as key vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, that can significantly improve health.


 

How Does It Work?

The nutritional profile of the pepper can bring about a number of health benefits. However, there is another compound within the pepper that has health-boosting qualities – capsaicin.

Capsaicin is the substance responsible for the hot and spicy sensation experienced when eaten.

It has been suggested that capsaicin can facilitate fat loss. The substance may cause the body to produce more heat and consequently increase the number of calories burned (1).

Capsaicin is commonly used in skin creams as it has an analgesic effect (2). When applied to the skin, it causes a reduction in pain by impeding the transmission of pain messages to the neurons.


 

Is It Safe?

For the majority of individuals, cayenne peppers are safe to consume. However, there are specific populations who should be wary of eating cayenne peppers.

It has been suggested that cayenne pepper can interfere with specific medications, specifically, blood thinning or blood pressure medications.

For those taking blood pressure medication, cayenne peppers may cause a cough. Cayenne peppers may also increase the risk of bleeding for those taking blood thinners.

Those on medication should consult a doctor before eating cayenne peppers or taking any form of cayenne pepper supplement.


 

Cayenne Pepper Health Benefits

Capsaicin in Cayenne Pepper

A number of studies that have been completed on cayenne pepper. This section will review the findings of said research and consider the benefits associated with cayenne peppers.

1. Boosts Metabolism

What the Science Says

As touched on, capsaicin may cause an increase in thermogenesis thus boosting metabolism. (1)

Increasing the amount of heat produced by the body causes more calories to be used up. By boosting metabolism in this way, body compositional changes can be made more effectively.

One particular study prescribed some participants with a capsaicin supplement before breakfast while others received nothing.

The results indicated that the supplemented group experienced a significantly greater calorie burn (51%) than the non-supplemented group. (3)

However, while the compound does appear to have an impact on metabolism, the effect does appear to be small.

A second study found that individuals who consumed cayenne pepper burned only 10 more calories over four and a half hours. (4)

2. Reduces Appetite

What the Science Says

In addition to enhancing metabolism, research has indicated that the pepper may reduce appetite. Reducing hunger, eating less, and feeling fuller for longer can assist in weight loss.

Once again, it appears that capsaicin is responsible for causing this effect, however, how exactly capsaicin causes this is unclear.

It is theorized that the compound impacts the production of a hormone known as ghrelin. This is the hormone responsible for causing feelings of hunger.

Therefore, by reducing the production of ghrelin, appetite may be significantly suppressed (5).

To add weight to this, one study investigated the impact of capsaicin on the volume of food and drink consumed.

The results indicated those who took capsaicin consumed 10-16% less than those who didn’t. These individuals also reported greater satiety levels (6).

3. Lowers Blood Pressure

What the Science Says

High blood pressure or “hypertension” can contribute to the development of a number of health conditions. Additionally, hypertension is one of the biggest killers worldwide (7).

Capsaicin has been found to cause vasodilation which is simply the widening of blood vessels. It has been hypothesized that increasing vasodilation may reduce blood pressure.

Furthermore, research on capsaicin’s impact on blood pressure is promising.

A study looking at the impact of spices on the blood pressure of mice showed that long-term consumption reduced pressure (8).

However, these findings must be treated cautiously as they are animal-based studies; capsaicin may have a different effect on humans.

4. Promotes Digestive Health

What the Science Says

It has been suggested that cayenne pepper can also have an impact on digestive health.

Compounds contained within the pepper may enhance digestive fluid and enzyme production in order to aid digestion.

It is believed that substances like capsaicin stimulate nerves within the stomach to trigger this response (9).

Many have concerns about the impact of spicy foods on stomach ulcers. However, one study has actually indicated that capsaicin may have a positive impact on stomach ulcers (10).

5. Relieves Pain

What the Science Says

As highlighted earlier, capsaicin is well known for having an analgesic effect. Consequently, many medical products utilize capsaicin in order to relieve pain.

Capsaicin appears to reduce something known as substance P. Substance P is responsible for delivering pain signals to the brain.

By reducing the amount of substance P, signals do not reach the brain which causes feelings of pain to lessen. (11)

Therefore, the capsaicin contained with cayenne pepper help to reduce joint, muscle, and nerve pains.

6. Reduces Disease Risk

What the Science Says

As mentioned earlier, cayenne peppers may help to reduce blood pressure. By reducing blood pressure, the risk of developing cardiac-related conditions is also lessened.

Studies have indicated that capsaicin may have anti-inflammatory properties (12). Reducing inflammation has been associated with a reduced risk of disease.

Furthermore, cayenne peppers may reduce the risk of cancer (13). Studies suggest that capsaicin may reduce the growth of cancer cells and bring about cell death (14).

However, it’s important to recognize that the majority of the research has been conducted in labs and on animals. Therefore, although findings are promising, more research is needed.

7. Improves Skin Health

What the Science Says

There are a number of individuals who suffer from autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body.

While there is no cure for a number of autoimmune diseases, capsaicin is commonly used to treat the symptoms.

Research has shown that the compound can significantly reduce itchiness, redness, scaling, and skin appearance. (15)

As with pain, it appears that substance P has an impact on conditions such as psoriasis. Therefore, capsaicin may reduce amounts of substance P and positively impact skin health.

8. Eases Cold Symptoms

What the Science Says

A commonly used method for dealing with cold symptoms is the use of spices.

Scientific research has indicated that the compound capsaicin may indeed relieve symptoms like sneezing, a blocked nose, and congestion (16).

While it may prove effective against common cold symptoms, it does not appear to have an effect on allergy symptoms.


 

Side Effects

Few side effects have been reported with consuming cayenne pepper, however, taking cayenne pepper in high doses may cause the following effects:

  • Diarrhea
  • Flushing
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach ache
  • Sweating

 

Usage and Dosing Considerations

Cayenne pepper can be eaten raw, cooked, or taken in supplement form. Additionally, capsaicin is contained within a number of medications and skin creams.

Considering the many different uses of cayenne peppers, it is not possible to give a universal dosage recommendation.

If taking cayenne pepper supplementally, adhere to the recommended dosage found on the product. Exceeding this recommendation may lead to side effects.

Those who take medication must consult their doctor to ensure that cayenne pepper will not interfere with the medication.


 

Risks and Precautions

As well as those on medications, those who have allergies to specific foods may find that they are allergic to cayenne pepper.

Individuals who are allergic to avocados, bananas, chestnuts, latex, and kiwis may be allergic to cayenne peppers too.

Those who have had persistent stomach ulcers or heartburn should consider moderating their intake of cayenne pepper. If in any doubt, it is always best to speak to a doctor first.

Finally, while cayenne peppers appear to be safe when eaten as food, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should avoid cayenne supplements.


 

FAQ’s

How hot is cayenne pepper?

The Scoville scale is a measurement of the heat of chili peppers. Cayenne peppers score between 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units making it a medium to hot pepper.

What is the difference between cayenne pepper, chili powder, and paprika?

chili powders often use a variety of chili pepper powders and spices. Therefore, in terms of heat, the chili powders range depending on the mix used.

Meanwhile, paprikas are typically made using mild peppers and are not as hot as the cayenne pepper.

How is cayenne pepper consumed?

Cayenne pepper is often used in food and can be added to a range of dishes or used in sauces. There are a number of drinks that contain cayenne, such as cayenne pepper tea.

The pepper can also be taken supplementally with a large variety of cayenne pepper supplements to choose from.

What does cayenne pepper do to the body?

The pepper has an excellent nutritional profile which can facilitate a range of positive changes in health.

There are a number of proposed benefits to taking cayenne pepper. This includes boosting metabolism, suppressing appetite, relieving pain, and reducing the risk of disease.

Does cayenne pepper cause weight loss?

Capsaicin is the compound contained within the cayenne pepper which is often attributed to causing weight loss.

It has been suggested that capsaicin increases body heat which increases metabolism and suppresses appetite.

While this may contribute to weight loss, it will not directly cause it. The only mechanism that can cause weight loss is a calorie deficit.

Restricting the number of calories consumed will force the body to break down fat stores. If this is maintained over a prolonged period of time, significant weight loss will occur.

How much cayenne pepper should be taken per day?

Adults can consume between 30 and 120 mg of cayenne pepper in the supplemental form up to three times each day.

That said, it is important to adhere to the specific dosage instructions on the supplement. Additionally, consult a qualified medical professional prior to taking any new supplement.


 

Summary

It appears that cayenne pepper may have a positive impact on health in a number of ways.

While cayenne may have a slight effect on metabolism, it appears to significantly impact appetite. Therefore, cayenne peppers may be beneficial for those who seek to lose weight.

A compound known as capsaicin is found in cayenne peppers. This compound appears to reduce pain and promote skin health which explains why it is added to many skin creams.

Lastly, there studies to suggest that cayenne may reduce blood pressure, ease cold symptoms, promote digestion, and reduce disease risk.

While the results from these studies are promising, many of the studies are laboratory or animal-based studies. Therefore, more research is required to confirm these findings.

For most, cayenne pepper is safe to consume. However, there are certain populations that should exercise caution and consult a doctor prior to consumption.

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References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4477151/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27809268
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23179202
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21093467
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695870/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15611784
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22157565
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20674858
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25675368
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16621751
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3169333/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12531428
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21487045
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26976969
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3760276
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4971034/

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