Welcome to this fourth article in our new "Healthy Spices" blog series.
Today we examine cayenne pepper, a healthy, medicinal spice with a kick that originates from South America and Central America.
Sit back, relax and prepare yourself for a spicy read!
What is Cayenne Pepper?
Most people are familiar with cayenne powder, which is produced by grinding up cayenne peppers.
Cayenne peppers (Capsicum annuum
) are red in colour, and are actually the fruit of cayenne shrubs. Their spiciness is caused by an active ingredient called "capsaicin" (true for all hot peppers).
Cayenne peppers are similar to other hot peppers such as jalapeno peppers and banana peppers. They have around 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units, which means that cayenne pepper has a moderate heat rating (the Scoville scale measures heat caused by spiciness).
Nutritional Properties of Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper contains very high amounts of vitamin A, along with significant amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin E and vitamin B6.
It also contains substantial amounts of manganese, potassium, iron and flavonoids.
It does not contain any cholesterol at all, and in addition it is a source of dietary fiber.
Here is a summary of cayenne pepper’s key nutritional information (per teaspoon):
- Vitamin A: 44% of daily requirement
- Vitamin E: 8% of daily requirement
- Vitamin C: 7% of daily requirement
- Vitamin B6: 6% of daily requirement
- Vitamin K: 5% of daily requirement
- Manganese: 5% of daily requirement
- Potassium: 7% of daily requirement
- No cholesterol
For a complete breakdown of cayenne pepper’s nutritional properties please go to the Self Nutrition Data web site
Medicinal Properties of Cayenne Pepper
Native Americans have been using cayenne pepper for its medicinal properties as far back as 9000 years ago1
Since then cayenne has been adopted into many different cultures for its medicinal properties. Just some examples of this are Indian Ayurvedic medicine, as well as traditional medicines used in Korea, Japan and China.
Cayenne pepper is now used extensively all over the world in natural medicine.
Medicinal properties of cayenne include, although are not limited to, the following:
Property #1: Topical Pain Relief
The capsaicin in cayenne pepper is used as an active ingredient in topical pain relief medications you can get at many pharmacies.
Have you ever lathered on some sort of heat-based gel that soothed your sore muscles? If you answer yes, there is a good chance it was capsaicin that you were enjoying!
As a result of its heating action, capsaicin has been used to treat shingles, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and even fibromyalgia.
Property #2: Prevention of Blood Clots, Heart Attacks and Blood Circulation
Cayenne pepper acts as a natural blood thinner. In addition, the capsaicin that it contains has a fibrinolytic effect, which means that it breaks down blood clots.
As a result, cayenne pepper improves the circulation of blood in the body and helps to prevent heart attacks.
Do you get cold toes or fingers in the winter time? Consider increasing your cayenne pepper intake!
There are also many reports that a mixture of cayenne pepper in water (one teaspoon of pepper in a cup of water) can actually stop a heart attack while it is occurring. Note that this is difficult to prove scientifically due to ethical concerns, and is based on empirical observations of various doctors and other people.
Property #3: Digestive Aid
Cayenne pepper helps to produce saliva by stimulating the salivary glands. The more saliva we have, the better our digestion (and breath for that matter).
Cayenne pepper also helps to increase our enzyme production, thereby helping our bodies to break down (metabolize) food more efficiently.
On a final gastrointestinal note, cayenne pepper has also been demonstrated to help prevent gallstones, heal gastric ulcers and relieve intestinal gas (by stimulating intestinal peristatic motion).2
Property #4: Anti-Inflammatory
Capsaicinoids (the most common of which is capsaicin) are what gives cayenne and all other hot peppers their anti-inflammatory properties.
Chronic inflammation has been found to be at the root of many diseases, a good example being rheumatoid arthritis.
Property #5: Relief of Headaches (Including Migraines)
Migraine headaches are very painful and can be debilitating. Migraine causes are not well understood, but it seems that they are related to a constriction of blood vessels in the head.
And this is where cayenne pepper comes into play.
The capsaicin that cayenne contains desensitizes nerve endings by reducing the amount of "substance P" that is created by the nerves (substance P is a neurotransmitter that transmits pain from nerves to the brain). In addition, capsaicin, may also reduce PAF (platelet aggregation factor), thereby inhibiting the constriction of blood circulation into the brain, which contributes to migraine headaches.
Note that capsaicin and migraine headache studies have applied capsaicin intra-nasally (e.g. topically, within the nose).3
Property #6: Anti-Carcinogen
A study in 2005 by Dr. Srivastava of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine demonstrated that capsaicin disrupts mitochondrial processes and induces apoptosis (self-destruction) of cancerous pancreatic cells without having any effect on the non-cancerous cells.
In addition, another study published in 2006 by Dr. Soren Lehmann of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found that capsaicin caused approximately 80% of cancerous prostate cells in mice to self-destruct (via apoptosis).4
Turns out that cancer cells don’t like the heat!
Property #7: Weight Loss and Detox Aid
Cayenne pepper is a very popular natural weight loss and detox aid.
A study published in the National Institute of Health5
found that the daily ingestion of capsaicinoids can play a role in weight loss programs by suppressing appetite and increasing the body’s metabolism.
Cayenne also has been reported to detoxify the body, especially when it is mixed with lemon and water. This lemon, water and cayenne mixture is referred to as the "Master Cleanse", and was invented by Stanley Burroughs around 50 years ago.
Note that the effectiveness of this Master Cleanse is highly debated, seems like the jury is still out on this one!
Property #8: Diabetes Prevention and Treatment
A study published in 2006 by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
reported a significant decrease in blood glucose levels after the test subjects ingested food containing cayenne pepper. The same study also found that subjects experienced a drop in their blood’s insulin levels after eating food laced with cayenne over a 30-day period.
In addition, the pain-killing properties of the capsaicin in cayenne pepper also helps to reduce various diabetic-related pains (e.g. in the feet and legs).
Cooking with Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper goes well with almost all main culinary dishes. Want to add a bit of spice to a dish? Add some cayenne pepper, the limit is your imagination. The only thing we can think of that cayenne pepper does not go well with is ice cream!
For some cayenne pepper recipe ideas please go here
Cayenne pepper is hard to wash off of the skin. As a result, if you have been handling cayenne and do not wash thoroughly enough (using a soap that cuts through oils) you may be in for a nasty surprise if you inadvertently rub yourself using those fingers. Ouch!
Other cautionary notes:
- Capsaicin capsules may result in irritation of the stomach.
- Some people are allergic to cayenne, avoid ingesting if this applies to you.
- Don’t use capsaicin-based products on open wounds when used as a topical treatment.
Also, avoid taking a cayenne supplement (e.g. large amounts of cayenne) if you are taking the following medications7 (see the reference for a complete listing):
- ACE inhibitors such as Captopril (Capoten), Fosinopril (Monopril), Elaropril (Vasotec), etc.
- Stomach acid reducers such as Cimetidine (Tagamet), Famotidine (Pepcid), etc.
- Aspirin (cayenne reduces its efficiency and increases the risk of bleeding).
- Diabetes medications: capsaicin lowers blood sugar levels, which can result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). Consult a qualified health professional before taking large amounts of cayenne pepper if you’re a diabetic.
- Blood-thinners: capsaicin may increase the risk of bleeding when taking blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix). Note that this also holds true for natural substances that also have a blood thinning effect such as ginger, garlic, etc.
- Theophylline: cayenne pepper may result in more absorption of theophylline, used to treat asthma. High levels of theophylline can be hazardous to the health.
We hope you enjoyed this super spices blog article about cayenne pepper.
Cayenne is a truly amazing spice that’s has been used for centuries by many cultures, and the capsaicin it contains has numerous medicinal properties.
If you have any feedback please let us know, we’re happy to hear from you.Sources:
• 1 http://foodfacts.mercola.com/cayenne-pepper.html
• 2 http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/benefits-of-cayenne-pepper/
• 3 http://bja.oxfordjournals.org/content/90/6/812.full
• 4 https://www.scribd.com/document/209667543/Hot-Pepper-Ingredient-Kills-Prostate-Cancer-Cells
• 5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24246368
• 6 http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/84/1/63.long
• 7 http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/cayenne