• Haley Peck

Spice Up Your Health With Capsaicin

​If you’re a fan of heat in the kitchen, then you are in luck! Spicy foods often get a bad rap, but more and more studies are proving them to have a long list of health benefits. Different types of hot chili peppers contain a phyto-chemical called capsaicin, which not only gives peppers their heat, but is also what gives them all of their healthy properties. We don’t just mean sinus-clearing benefits, but actual antioxidant-filled, cancer fighting, pain relieving, and weight-diminishing properties. Keep in mind that the spicier the pepper, the more capsaicin it has.

So how is the heat of a pepper measured? They use a system called the Scoville Scale. The Scoville scale is named after a chemist named Wilbur Scoville who developed a test used to measure how much capsaicin different peppers contain. The scale measures the hottest peppers in world using SHU’s (Scoville Heat Units).

Here are some of capsaicin's powerful health benefits (although the list extends much further)!

Burns away cancer cells

Think of your favorite spicy dish, and then think about where it originated. Many researchers believe that the reason countries such as Mexico and India, known for eating a particularly spicy diet, have the lowest rates of some cancers is due to this spicy elements in their cuisine. Several studies have found that the capsaicin found in chili peppers can kill cancer cells by actually starving them of oxygen. says that “Hot chili peppers make cancer cells commit suicide”. A study by researchers at Nottingham University in the UK found that capsaicin killed laboratory-grown lung and pancreatic cancer cells by attacking the source of energy of the cells, forcing them to die off. What makes this even more exciting is that capsaicin also has NO side effects, unlike other conventional cancer medications.

Fights pain

Because capsaicin is a potent anti-inflammatory, it is extremely useful for many types of pain. You can find it as a main ingredient in many low-dose, over-the-counter topical pain relief patches. Doctors will often also prescribe it in higher doses if neccessary. How does it work? Capsaicin depletes a chemical component called substance P, which sends pain signals to the brain. This chemical can help reduce pain from sore muscles, backaches, arthritis pain, sprains and strains. Its anti-inflammatory properties is also known to help ease the pain of arthritis, neuropathy and skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

Sheds Pounds

There are numerous theories as to why the capsaicin in hot peppers is known to play a roll in weight loss. For one, capsaicin is a thermogenic agent, meaning it raises metabolic activity, which helps burn calories and fat. An article written by Dr. Joseph Mercola states, “ Studies have shown the substance may help fight obesity by decreasing calorie intake, shrinking fat tissue, and lowering blood fat levels, as well as fight fat buildup by triggering beneficial protein changes in your body”. Spicy foods are also known to help you feel full and increase satiety, which is why many studies suggest that it can help aid in weight loss. According to Joseph Mercola, MD. “Part of the benefit may be due to capsaicin's heat potential, as it is a thermogenic substance that may temporarily increase thermogenesis in your body, where your body burns fuel such as fat to create heat, with beneficial impacts on your metabolism and fat-burning potential.”

Helps you breathe Better

Have you ever bitten into something spicy and felt your sinus’s clear immediately? For centuries, capsaicin has been used to help alleviate cold symptoms and clear congestion. According to The Alternative Daily, “This is because this compound naturally thins mucus, and reduces inflammation”. This is also helpful in reducing common allergy symptoms.

Helps your heart

Researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that capsaicin can lowers blood cholesterol levels and blocks the artery contracting gene that causes heart attacks.

When food and nutritional scientist, Zhen-Yu Chen studied capsaicin effects of hamsters with high cholesterol diets, he found five different heart health benefits:

1. Capsaicin reduced levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol,

2. helped the body breakdown cholesterol and turn it into waste,

3. blocked the gene that contracts arteries, allowing more blood to flow through the blood vessels,

4. cut the size of deposits in blood vessels

5. and blocks a gene that produces a substance that affects the muscles around blood vessels and prohibits blood flow.

How can you add more capsaicin to your diet?

Here are some great recipes that incorporate capsaicin-filled chili peppers. Let us know if you have a favorite!

White Chicken Chili from A Spicy Person's Perspective

Grilled Fish Tacos from Eating Well

Spicy Guacamole from Natasha's Kitchen

Spicy Kimchi from Primally Inspired

OR you can try a homemade (inedible) hot pepper cream for arthritis and joint pain recipe from Everyday Roots


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