What is capsaicin? Capsaicin is a compound found in spicy peppers, like cayenne peppers and chilis. It's the chemical that gives these peppers their heat. Many people don't like the spice of some peppers, which are foods with capsaicin, but are there benefits of capsaicin? Scientists first discovered capsaicin in 1878, and shortly after its discovery, they found that it caused all kinds of reactions:
- Burning in the mucous membranes
- Stimulated nerve endings
- Secretion of gastric acid
These effects may not seem too pleasant, but they actually benefit the body in many ways.
A Few Things to Know About Capsaicin
You know that capsaicin is the compound that makes peppers spicy, but why does it have this effect?
Eating foods that contain capsaicin stimulates pain receptors in your tongue. This is what creates that hot or spicy sensation in your mouth. Capsaicin is most concentrated in the seeds of the food, so that’s why spicy peppers seem to be hotter when you’re eating them whole or with the seeds.
Some people are more sensitive to capsaicin than others, which may explain why some people are adversely affected by eating spicy foods. If you fall into this category, you may still be able to benefit from capsaicin supplements.
The Benefits of Capsaicin
Capsaicin does have medical uses, and the compound has been actively studied. Some of the benefits linked to capsaicin include:
The FDA-labeled indications for this compound are musculoskeletal pain and arthritis. Many pain-relieving topical ointments contain capsaicin because of its effectiveness against pain caused by:
Scientists still aren’t sure why this compound helps with pain, but they have some theories. Capsaicin is a neuropeptide-active agent that affects substance P activity. Substance P is believed to be the main chemical mediator of pain signals from the peripheral to the central nervous system.
There is also evidence that substance P is released in tissues where it signals an inflammatory response, which can lead to rheumatoid arthritis.
Capsaicin appears to prevent the buildup of substance P, which may explain why it helps stop the pain.
Capsaicin is perhaps best known for its purported weight loss benefits. The compound, when taken in supplement form, is believed to help boost your metabolism, helping you burn calories and fat more easily.
How does it boost your metabolism? It works by increasing your body temperature and oxygen consumption. This thermogenic effect helps you burn slightly more calories.
One 12-week study found that supplementing 6 mg of capsaicin daily helped reduce belly fat.
Capsaicin is also believed to have an appetite-suppressing effect, which may help you naturally reduce your daily caloric intake.
Capsaicin is believed to have anti-inflammatory effects that can further help with the pain. Chronic inflammation can also lead to serious health issues, so combating it early on can help prevent the onset of disease.
One study found that capsaicin produced an anti-inflammatory effect in rats that were comparable to diclofenac (an NSAID).
May Help Treat Cancer
Research shows that capsaicin may help in the fight against cancer. Several studies have suggested that capsaicin may be effective against prostate cancer.
A 2006 UCLA School of Medicine study stated that the compound had a significant “antiproliferative effect” on prostate cancer. That study found that daily consumption of capsaicin helped stop the spread of cancer cells and even led to cell death in several types of prostate cancer cells.
There is also some evidence that capsaicin can help decrease the size and frequency of lung tumors.
May Help Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
Capsaicin is believed to help with blood sugar regulation, which can help with the prevention of diabetes.
Consistent consumption of capsaicin supplements or foods containing this compound can help improve insulin and blood sugar reactions.
The Top Foods with Capsaicin
Although capsaicin is available in supplement form – which makes it easy to get your daily dose of this compound – it's also found naturally in foods.
The top foods that have capsaicin include:
- Spicy peppers, such as green chilis, red chilis, cayenne peppers, tabasco peppers, ghost peppers, and more
- Sweet peppers, such as bell peppers (green and red), cone peppers, paprika peppers, cone peppers, cherry peppers, and more.
Capsaicin truly is a special compound that is only found in pepper plants.
Precautions and Side Effects
Capsaicin is well-tolerated by most people, but it can cause some unpleasant side effects in people.
Some people are allergic to the compound. Other people have a hard time tolerating the heat sensation it creates.
If you’re handling foods that contain capsaicin, it may be best to wear gloves. Touching the seeds or even the skin of some peppers can transfer the compound to your skin. If you touch your eyes or mouth after handling spicy peppers, it can cause severe burning and irritation.
Capsaicin is a unique compound that offers many benefits. Even if you’re not a fan of spicy peppers, capsaicin supplements can help you enjoy these benefits with fewer side effects.