There are no miracle cure-alls, silver bullets, or magic pills that will get you trim, fit and healthy, but after an exhaustive search and rigorous testing, The Sherpa has pinpointed a few natural health therapies that DO help and ferreted out the scams to avoid...you may be shocked by what we've discovered.

Capsaicin: This “Fire” Spice Cools Joint Pain and Inflammation

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Posted Tuesday, Mar. 29th, 2011

cayenne

We all know that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, but few people know that his “wayward” trip also resulted in the discovery of something with amazing healing powers.

It all starts with a beef the Europeans had with the Arabs at the time.

See, the Arabs had this amazing spice that they were keeping from the Europeans. For centuries, all of Europe had to go without black pepper to season their food, as the Arabs would not share their source.

So, as Columbus made his inadvertent way to America, he vowed to bring back this black pepper for all Europeans to enjoy.  But it didn’t work out quite the way he planned. And lucky for us it didn’t!

Black pepper was originally found in India, and seeing as Columbus was 5,000 miles away in the Americas, he was way off track.  But, what he did discover was a much better find.

He found a different kind of pepper that not only helped to spice food, but also had incredible healing properties.  This hot, healing pepper was the cayenne, or chili, pepper.

The Hot Healer

While most people think of cayenne pepper as the spicy cousin of ground black pepper, it is an actual member of the pepper family.  More of a chili pepper than a bell pepper, it is named for the city of Cayenne in French Guiana and looks a bit like a red jalapeno.

But looks aren’t the only thing cayenne peppers share with their spicy cousin.  They also resemble jalapenos and habaneros in terms of heat.

In the case of the powder found in your spice cupboard, the pepper itself is dried and ground before it makes its way to your home.

Fortunately, the active ingredient found in cayenne—capsaicin—is present in both the vegetable and the dried spice.

This is the key, as it’s the capsaicin that gives cayenne its healing mojo.

A Universal Tonic?

A quick Internet search for either cayenne or capsaicin will turn up claims for all sorts of medicinal benefits.  They have been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, indigestion, pain, and even weight loss.

After a more thorough investigation and countless hours going over studies, articles, and even books on the subjects, we discovered that while there is solid traditional use and experiential examples for nearly all these conditions, the strongest evidence of capsaicin’s benefits lies in its ability to relieve pain.

Soothing Relief for Arthritis Sufferers…

Capsaicin is a natural anti-inflammatory, due to its ability to block COX-2, a type of prostaglandin that causes inflammation.  That’s one of the reasons it has so many other medicinal benefits.

As we’ve written about with other natural treatments, simply reducing inflammation throughout your body keeps a whole host of health conditions at bay.  But, capsaicin really shines when it comes to easing pain.

In one gold standard, double blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study1, researchers divided more than 100 patients with either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis into two groups.  The first group rubbed a cream with 0.025 percent capsaicin into painful knees four times a day.  The second group used a plain cream.

Within two weeks, 80 percent of the capsaicin group had a reduction in pain.  And by the end of the four-week study period, the capsaicin group had a statistically significant reduction in pain as compared to the placebo group.  In fact, the rheumatoid arthritis patients had a 57 percent reduction in pain, while the osteoarthritis patients had a 33 percent reduction.

Help for Diabetics Too…

Given the positive results of this impressive study (in terms of design as well as patient size), researchers set out to see if capsaicin would help other types of pain.  This time, diabetic neuropathy, a painful condition that occurs when nerves are damaged as a result of high blood sugar levels.

In a multi-center, double blind, placebo-controlled study2, researchers divided 252 patients with diabetic neuropathy into two groups.  The first group used a capsaicin cream on any painful areas four times a day.  The second group used a plain cream with the same frequency.

After eight weeks, those people who used the capsaicin cream enjoyed a 69 percent reduction in pain, 58 percent improvement in pain relief, and 38 percent decrease in pain intensity.  Statistically, these were significantly better results than those found in the placebo group.

When you have a gold standard study such as this, there’s not much to say.  Capsaicin works.

The Great Ulcer Debate…

Clearly capsaicin is an effective, natural topical solution for pain relief.  But, what about consuming it?  Enter the great ulcer debate.

Many articles warn about the risk of ulcers when eating hot peppers and other foods containing capsaicin.  Then you have the studies saying that these same foods can prevent ulcers.  Which is it?

On the topic of causing ulcers, that issue was put to rest in 1988.  Researchers in Houston, Texas (hot chili capital!) used endoscopy to determine if, in fact, spicy food caused ulcers3.

In this randomized, crossover study, 12 people were given a basic endoscopy. This is a procedure that uses an instrument with a small camera attached to a long, thin tube to allow a doctor to move throughout your body and look at specific organs; in this case, the stomach and duodenum (beginning of your small intestine).

The subjects then ate four different meals at four different times.  The four meals were unpeppered steak and fries (the control), pepperoni pizza, a spicy Mexican dish (containing 30 grams of jalapeno peppers), and a bland meal with 1,950 mg of aspirin.  Twelve hours after each meal, each subject was given another endoscope to determine damage to the stomach and duodenum.

Researchers found that 11 of the 12 subjects had “severe” injury with multiple minor ulcers after the bland meal containing the aspirin.  The pizza meal and Mexican meal caused one incidence of one minor ulcer each, and there were no issues with the steak and fries.

So, spicy is okay, but aspirin is “severe.”  And it’s peppers they are worried about?

We weren’t the only ones who thought this was ironic.  So ironic, in fact, that researchers in Singapore tested to see if capsaicin could actually protect against aspirin-induced ulcers4.

Researchers had 18 people take 20 grams of chili orally with 200 ml of water, then 30 minutes later, take 600 mg of aspirin with 200 ml of water.  Four weeks later, the participants drank another 200 ml of water (no chili), followed by 600 mg of aspirin and water 30 minutes later.  After each test, the subjects were given an endoscope.

Researchers found that damage to the stomach and duodenum was statistically greater when the participants took just the aspirin (a four on their gastric injury scale), versus when they took the chili (1.5 on the scale).

Or, in plain terms, the capsaicin actually protected the participants against damage caused by the aspirin.

This is a very intriguing study.  However, we’d love to see it done in a larger study group and under double-blind, placebo-controlled conditions.

Turn Up the Heat to Cool the Pain…

A simple and delicious way to get the health benefits of capsaicin is to eat hot peppers.

Whether you choose cayenne peppers, jalapenos, or even habaneros, you can slice and add them to soups, stews, or sauces, or make your own salsa. And, as always, you should look for organic options.

You can also turn down the burner a bit by using cayenne in its powder form. Sprinkle it on potatoes or rice for a bit of a kick or add it to chicken or fish for a south-of-the-border change of pace. Some people even add half a teaspoon to their morning smoothie.

If you simply cannot tolerate or don’t like spices at all, you can take the supplement route. The recommended dosage is one to two capsules of cayenne (450 mg) per day.

Be sure to take care when choosing—and using—a cayenne or capsaicin product. It should be free of preservatives, fillers, binders, excipients, flow agents, shellacs, coloring agents, gluten, yeast, lactose, and other allergens. Ideally you’ll also be able to find independent analysis conducted by a third party to verify the active ingredients and identify any contaminants.

If you are interested in using a capsaicin cream, look for a product that contains 0.025 to 0.075 percent capsaicin. A burning sensation may occur at first as your skin adjusts to the heat, but it should subside after a few uses. If it persists, stop using it and consult with your physician.

No matter which route you take, it’s clear that using heat to ease pain can be very cool indeed.

References:

1Deal, CL, et al. Treatment of arthritis with topical capsaicin: a double-blind trial. Clin. Ther. 1991, May-Jun.; 13(3):383-95.

2Treatment of painful diabetic neuropathy with topical capsaicin. A multicenter, double-blind, vehicle-controlled study. The Capsaicin Study Group. Arch. Intern. Med. 1991, Nov.; 151(11):2225-9.

3Graham, DY, et al. Spicy food and the stomach. Evaluation by videoendoscopy. JAMA. 1988, Dec. 16; 260(23):3473-5.

4Yeoh, KG, et al. Chili protects against aspirin-induced gastroduodenal mucosal injury in humans. Dig. Dis. Sci. 1995, Mar.; 40(3); 580-3.

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  • Jim Fox

    For many years, I suffered from severe headaches.
    These started when I was 13 years old.
    I felt a severe pain behind my right eye –
    like someone was stabbing me with a knife.
    These headaches would last for 45 minutes to
    one hour or more, often every day.
    This daily headache cycle would last
    for about one to two months.
    Almost every day, for one to two months,
    I would get these terrible headaches.

    Sometimes, this 1-2 month episode would start
    in the winter, sometimes in the spring,
    sometimes in summer, sometimes in autumn.
    There was no “seasonal pattern”.

    During an episode, the headaches could start
    in the morning, afternoon, or evening.
    There was no “time-of-day” pattern.
    A world-famous doctor diagnosed my headache as a “Cluster Headache”,
    which is similar to a migraine headache
    but much more severe.
    Both Cluster and Migraine headaches are vascular —
    that is, both kinds are associated with
    constrictions of blood vessels.

    This doctor prescribed several medicines,
    some “preventive” and some “curative”.
    The “preventive medicines” reduced the number
    of daily headaches by 25% to 40%.
    The “curative medicine, an ergot (ergotamine tartrate),
    to be taken sub lingually (under the tongue)
    at the onset of a headache, usually worked OK,
    but there were two problems.

    First, this medicine made me feel dizzy.
    Second, there was only a five-minute “window” of time
    when I could take the pill: I had to
    take it within five minutes of when I first
    felt the headache starting; if I took it
    after that time, it was useless.

    In August, 1989, at age 44, during a 2-month episode,
    I made a significant discovery.
    A headache had started, and I ate a hot pepper (cayenne),
    because I believed that the intense pain in my
    mouth from the pepper would “distract” me from
    the pain of the headache.
    I did this about ten minutes after the headache has started.
    The pepper not only distracted me —
    IT STOPPED THE HEADACHE WITHIN 12 MINUTES!
    The next time I got a headache, I ate another hot pepper —
    WITH THE SAME RESULTS.

    I became extremely curious about how this
    “headache treatment” worked. ( more )
    With the help of a relative (a neuroscientist)
    and several publications, I found out about
    “capsaicin”, the substance that makes peppers hot.
    Capsaicin stops or reduces the release of “SUBSTANCE P”,
    which is a neuro-chemical that enables the transmission
    of pain in the human body’s nervous system.

    I was elated about this treatment.
    IN EVERY CASE, THE HEADACHE STOPPED IN 9 TO 11 MINUTES
    AFTER TAKING THE HOT PEPPER.
    I found that THESE PEPPERS WORKED VERY FAST BECAUSE
    THE CAPSAICIN WAS ABSORBED THROUGH MY MOUTH,
    ESPECIALLY FROM UNDER MY TONGUE,
    not from my stomach or intestines.
    IT WAS NOT NECESSARY TO SWALLOW THE PEPPER.
    I continued to use hot peppers for these headaches until 1994,
    at which time the headaches ceased — I “outgrew” them.

  • Jim Fox

    (continued)
    I became extremely curious about how this
    “headache treatment” worked.
    With the help of a relative (a neuroscientist)
    and several publications, I found out about
    “capsaicin”, the substance that makes peppers hot.
    Capsaicin stops or reduces the release of “SUBSTANCE P”,
    which is a neuro-chemical that enables the transmission
    of pain in the human body’s nervous system.

    I was elated about this treatment.
    IN EVERY CASE, THE HEADACHE STOPPED IN 9 TO 11 MINUTES
    AFTER TAKING THE HOT PEPPER.
    I found that THESE PEPPERS WORKED VERY FAST BECAUSE
    THE CAPSAICIN WAS ABSORBED THROUGH MY MOUTH,
    ESPECIALLY FROM UNDER MY TONGUE,
    not from my stomach or intestines.
    IT WAS NOT NECESSARY TO SWALLOW THE PEPPER.
    I continued to use hot peppers for these headaches until 1994,
    at which time the headaches ceased — I “outgrew” them.

    On July 4th, 1990, a newspaper story described some findings
    reported at the “World Headache Conference”
    in Washington, DC (Conference Chairman: Dr. Diamond!).
    The Conference reported that a certain cream was effective
    in the treatment of Cluster ande certain Migraine
    headaches.
    The main ingredient of the cream is … CAPSAICIN!
    I continued to use raw, hot peppers,
    because the cream is very expensive.

    Since that time, I have told several people about this
    method of treating Cluster Headaches and certain
    types of Migraine Headaches.
    Most people to whom I have told this do not want to
    try it — until they get a headache.

    Those people who have tried it, without exception,
    have found relief in nine to eleven minutes.

  • George Ocasio-1

    Great stuff.

  • Clangille

    its just to damn long. people who are working want a infomative condensed verision.
    not a mile long sales pitch

  • Ibgoode1

    As a type 2 diabetic, I enjoyed this article on capsaicin and its heated properties as opposed to aspirin (I am encouraged to take one daily). no wonder there is talk of spicing up ones life!

  • Terri

    I play it, rather than read it. (Love that option, thanks.) I either exercise while it’s playing, or check other emails. Never check personal email while at work.

  • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

    Clangille,

    Thanks for the feedback regarding length. We will definitely look at how to shorten them up without leaving out critical information or studies. As the the “sales pitch,” we don’t sell any products, so there’s no pitch…just information to help you make informed choices regarding your health.

    Naturally yours,

    The Sherpa

  • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

    Spice away!!!

    Naturally yours,

    The Sherpa

  • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

    Jim,

    Thank you for sharing your story and your success with hot peppers and capsaicin!

    Naturally yours,

    The Sherpa

  • Phil

    Just disgnosed with osteo-arthritis in both knees. Will definately give this a go! Thank you!

  • http://www.trivita.com/10854657 Bob Norquay

    Great article In that it says that we discovered that while there is solid traditional use and experiential examples for nearly all these conditions, the strongest evidence of capsaicin’s benefits lies in its ability to relieve pain. People should look for mora traditional remedies. Here is another.
    I do not know if it really does work, however I know without a doubt that NOPALEA does work for many types of pain.

  • maryanne

    Very interesting news.I have always used cayenne pepper in my dishes and will continue to do so.

  • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

    Maryanne,

    Keep up the great work and spice away!

    Naturally yours,

    The Sherpa

  • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

    Bob,

    Thanks for the tip!

    Naturally yours,

    The Sherpa

  • http://www.natural-homeremedies.com/homeremedies_bad_breath.htm Bad Breath Treatment

    Hello,
    Ginger is used to cure arthritis . It has been shown that consuming herbs like ginger allow you the antioxidant properties your body needs to fight off common conditions like arthritis.

  • Amfridley

    I used the topical cream and it worked well for my back pain. HOWEVER when rubbed on my back side for sciatica pain it felt like someone was holding a fire very close to me and I couldn’t get rid of it even after using dish soap like the box suggested. It was AWEFUL. my husband and daughter never saw me freak out like that. Trying to get rid of the fire. I had to lay om my stomach with a cold wash rag on my butt for about a half hour. Lol. SO I LEARNED TO USE IT SPARINGLY AND NOT ON DRY SKIN OR SENSITIVE AREAS. I actually apply it to
    my husbands back with disposable gloves. He has chronic back pain and it really helps. But I got it on his side a little to much one time and it really burned him too. SO BE. CAREFUL how much you use and where. Try a small test area first!

  • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

    Thanks for your story! And thank you for your caution…it is well noted and appreciated.

    Naturally yours,

    The Sherpa

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  • no me gusta chile

    it may work, but I do NOT like the burn that I get in my mouth with ALL forms of pepper, whether it be black or cayenne — I avoid peppers and pepper like I avoid rattlesnakes and poisonous spiders – if it works for you – great – but it does not pass thru my mouth in any form. Nor do I put it on my skin – had same experiences as Amfridley with burning on the skin — to each his own – but peppers and chili can stay away from me -

  • Jim Fox

    I’ll gladly suffer 11 minutes of intense heat in my mouth in order to forgo 90 minutes of an agonizing headache.

  • walktall34

    During the last year I’ve been sufferring from severe heel inflammation with intolerable pains that goes with it . I tried short waves, shock waves , cayenne , plus some other creams, needless to say it didnt help much.
    Since I am in much need, will someone here be kind enough to tell me what to do???????
    pardo_s@yahoo.com

  • Krystyna

    Do you know about Cayenne Pepper to stop bleeding? My husband had a shaving cut that would not stop bleeding for 40 minutes despite trying every trick I knew to do. Then I remembered someone mentioning Cayenne, so I put some on a Kleenex & told him to hold it on the cut. Within 30 seconds it had completely stopped. When we looked on the web, we also so tales of a kid who had been shot and a neighbour used Cayenne externally & gave it to him to drink with water for internal bleeding and this saved his life as they were far away from medical help.
    I have heard it can also work the other way, if someone is having a heart attack to get the blood flowing, so it seems to work both ways, but I need to do more research on that one to be sure.

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