Cayenne is a hot and spicy member of the chili pepper family. Its scientific name is “capsicum.” A really interesting fact that most people don’t know is that “cayenne” is the name of the capital city of French Guiana, where this particular chili originated.(1)
There are a number of antioxidant properties in the chili itself, but the main active ingredient responsible for all this plant’s health-boosting effects is a chemical called capsaicin.
Taken internally, capsaicin can help relieve short term pain and inflammation flare-ups such as sore throat, stomach upset, and is even used faithfully by migraine sufferers who don’t care for NSAIDs and even stronger pharmaceuticals. Capsaicin has also proved itself to be a mighty weapon in the battle against heart disease, cancers of all kinds, allergies, and obesity – just to mention a few.
When a capsaicin cream or oil is applied to the skin it can relieve muscle aches, the pain from osteoarthritis, and kill bacteria on the surface of the skin or in wounds.
Keep reading to learn more about the health benefits offered by daily consumption of this powerful superfood.
Health Benefits of Consuming Cayenne
The capsaicin found in cayenne is proven to help halt the aggregation of cholesterol, triglycerides and platelets on the walls of our arteries which always leads to nasty arteriosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries). The pepper is also high in antioxidant lignan glycosides, which help to halt the oxidation damage that’s a precursor to platelet aggregation on arterial walls. One of the most interesting ways that capsaicin helps the heart is as a vasodilator: it relaxes the walls of arteries, keeping them supple and free-flowing to prevent damage.(2)
Though not recommended, there are several who’ve claimed taking cayenne powder or a concentrated product helped them to halt their on-coming heart attacks. Dr. John Christopher is just one such medical professional who claimed to have seen this effect multiple times throughout his career. Keep in mind that many other doctors believe that cayenne may make the death of heart tissue after an attack more likely, so take this advice with a grain of salt and always call 911 if you or someone you know might be having a heart attack.
2.Weight Loss Aid
Cayenne has definitely proven itself as a potent thermogenic. In fact, it’s the second most popular natural chemical found in weight loss supplements, second only to caffeine. The more cayenne powder or extract you take, the more your metabolism will speed up.(3)
However, the ability to boost your metabolism to the extreme using it is limited to how much your body can tolerate. Taking it speeds up everything in your body, including digestion and elimination, meaning it will make you more hungry and you can definitely expect to spend more time on the toilet!
3.Cayenne Weight Loss Drink
A popular weight loss drink is to mix cayenne with water, lemon and maple syrup and drink it, and nothing else for 3 – 21 days. It’s called the “Lemonade Diet” and has been endorsed by celebrities like Beyonce, who claimed to have lost 20 lbs after drinking only this special lemonade (recipe below) for up to 21 days.
• 60 oz of water
• 6 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
• 6 oz of maple syrup
• ½ tsp of cayenne powder
Capsaicin’s effect at reducing cancer cells will be obvious to most of you who’re regular readers of this blog. Increasing antioxidant intake decreases your chance of falling victim to cancers of all kinds. The really interesting thing that’s been noted in reasearch studies about capsaicin and cancer is that it’s been shown to actually kill cancer cells – not an easy feat to accomplish!
One study showed “prostate cancer cell suicide rates” to be as high as 80% in human prostate cells when given 400 mg of capsaicin three times daily (learn more). Yet another study showed a similar reduction in pancreatic cancer cells. Each study was performed on mice with human cancer cells grown inside them, so as yet this benefit has yet to be studied on actual human beings.
5.Digestive Aid (Including Relief From Known Digestive Disorders)
Plain and simple, cayenne speeds up your metabolism, leading to faster and more efficient digestion. It’s proven effective in helping people who suffer from indigestion, constipation and IBS. The chemical components and antioxidants in cayenne can also kill the H. Pylori bacteria that causes increased stomach ulcers.
Due to its anti-inflammatory and pain killing effects, several migraine sufferers around the world rely on their daily dose of cayenne to help prevent migraine headaches from occurring and to ease the pain when they do come on suddenly.
7.Joint Pain & Arthritis
Cayenne is loaded with capsaicin. This heat-inducing chemical warms the skin quickly, increasing blood flow to the affected area which can offer temporary relief from the pain of inflammation.
8.All-Over Pain Relief
Capsaicin is the main weapon at work to reduce pain throughout the body. It inhibits a neurotransmitter called Substance P, which acts as a signal between the cells in our body and the brain to make you “feel” pain when something isn’t right in the body. Substance P is also what signals the start and continuation of inflammatory processes.(4)
Although inflammation is the body’s way of healing itself, in the case of chronic diseases like arthritis, chronic back pain, damaged nerves and autoimmune diseases, out-of-control inflammation only leads to more pain. Highly concentrated capsaicin formulations are currently being considered for approval for treatment of painful conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetic neuropathy and psoriasis.(5)
9.Treatment for the Common Cold
There is no evidence to suggest that cayenne can help prevent the common cold, but its antioxidant and antibacterial properties suggest that it might. However, it does offer relief to people suffering from the symptoms of a cold such as head and body aches, and chest and nasal congestion.(6)
Relief here is best achieve by taking a raw form of cayenne directly in your mouth. The increase in salivation caused by capsaicin starts a chain reaction that causes the secretion of fluid in the mouth, throat, nose and airways which helps to clear out phlegm and reduce inflammation. Fisherman’s Friend Extra Strong is your best friend for fighting the symptoms of a cold, as they’re super-high in capsaicin.
10.Dry Mouth Symptoms & Bad Breath Relief
Since the capsaicin in cayenne is so effective at promoting the release of saliva in the mouth, it offers great relief for people who suffer with poor saliva production and the bad breath and increased tooth decay this problem often causes. The antibacterial properties of cayenne also kill bad breath-causing bacteria.
There isn’t really a solid RDA for cayenne pepper. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking up to 120 mg three times daily. However, most supplements start out at 500 mg per capsule or serving size and the only consideration about dosing should be whether you experience any of the short-lived side effects listed below. More is generally better when it comes to reaping the benefits you’ve already learned about in the paragraphs above.
Potential Side Effects
If you find that you get unpleasant heartburn and/or reflux from spicy foods, there’s a good chance that cayenne pepper will have the same effect on you. This is mainly a side effect of taking raw cayenne pepper, when taken in a concentrated supplement form and not on an empty stomach, upset is much more rare.
Some factors to consider, if you want to take it but are sensitive to spicy foods, is to look for products with lower heat unit ratings (below 100,000 heat units). If you still find you get stomach upset from cayenne, look for buffered capsules and avoid liquid extracts or pure powder.
Cayenne is effective in treating many bowel conditions, including constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. However, if you take too much too soon, you might be singing a rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Burning Ring of Fire” on your next (several) trips to the toilet!
Cayenne will get your bowels moving tout de suite, so start off with small dose for a few days to see how your body reacts, then move up to the recommended dose if no unpleasant side effects are noticed.
3.Skin & Eye Irritation
Applied topically, it is possible to burn your skin with cayenne. The higher the heat units of a given product, the more likely it is to burn. Also, some people have sensitive skin and may burn even when exposed to a small amount.
It should go without saying that anything that’s hot and burns will cause plenty of irritation if you get any in your eyes. Wash your hands after making contact with anything that has cayenne in it, even capsules!
Breathing in cayenne powder can cause temporary breathing troubles and should definitely be avoided if you have asthma or COPD. This can happen easily when opening a bag of powder. An easy way to avoid getting the powder in your lungs is to handle bags of powder carefully and open them gently to avoid the dust from getting airborne.
Warning About Breast Feeding and Taking Capsaicin
It’s accepted as perfectly safe to take cayenne during pregnancy, but most healthcare practitioners warn against taking it while breastfeeding, as it can pass into breast milk and the safety of increased consumption of capsaicin in infants hasn’t been tested yet.
Drug Interactions With Capsaicin
There aren’t many drugs that interact with the capsaicin found in cayenne pepper, but there are a few and you should contact your doctor if you’re on any of the following and are considering reaping the benefits offered by getting more of it in your diet:
Blood Pressure Meds (ACE Inhibitors)
If you’re taking ACE inhibitors like captopril, enalapril or any others you need to talk to your doc before taking capsaicin. It may exacerbate the coughing that’s associated with these blood pressure meds.
The list of medications that lower stomach acid levels is very long. If you’re on medication that lowers stomach acid, such as prescription strength or OTC proton pump inhibitors, you should avoid cayenne completely, since it increases stomach acid.
Aspirin may reduce the pain-relieving effects of NSAIDs and can increase the bleeding risks associated with people who take low-dose aspirin to thin their blood.
To learn more about potential drug interactions associated with capsaicin, head over to the University of Maryland Medical Center website.
Before You Buy
Go Organic Whenever Possible
So many people take cayenne and other supplements to improve or maintain good health. Non-organic products are generally grown with pesticides which are almost always present in the final packaged product.
Heat units (HU) are a clear measurement of how potent your cayenne supplement is – ie., how much capsaicin is present. Heat units generally range from 35k right on up to 180,000. Your preference will come down to how you generally respond to spicy foods and supplements. If the heat bothers you, start with a product such as the NOW Foods capsules or bulk Starwest cayenne supplements listed below. If you’re looking for maximum heat and benefit, a potent extract like Christopher’s (also suggested below) is the best way to go for a massive dose of capsaicin!
If the supplement manufacturer doesn’t take pride in their products and is just out to get your money and run, you’ll probably end up with a cayenne supplement that’s low in capsaicin and potentially loaded with pesticides, allergens and other nasty contaminants that do nothing to improve health. Do your research – read reviews and ratings carefully and try to stick with companies that have been around for a while.
Recommended Cayenne Supplements
NOW Foods Cayenne, 500mg, 250 Capsules
If you regularly read my posts you’ll know that I’m fanatical about NOW Food’s products! They take pride in bringing affordable health supplements to us, without gouging on the price like many other popular brands. This cayenne supplement gives a dose of 500 mg of capsaicin-loaded cayenne in every easy-to-swallow capsule, without any of the typical allergy-inducing fillers like gluten, yeast, dairy, sugar, egg, or shellfish.
The benefits of taking your daily dose in concentrated capsule form is the massive heat units that can be consumed without burning the throat. This formulation boasts 40,000 heat units, meaning you know the capsaicin content is as high without being so hot it’ll cause stomach upset. You won’t find a better price or value in ready-to-use capsule form.
Christopher’s Hot Cayenne Extract, 180,000 HU – 1 fl oz
If a little heat doesn’t phase you, this concentrated liquid from Christopher’s is the way to go! How much heat, you ask? 180,000 HU’s! Some brave souls like to put the drops straight in their mouth and wash it back with a slug of water, but you can also mix it into sweet drinks or hot teas or coffees. I personally like to mix this stuff in chili and salsa for a truly massive dose of peppery health-boosting goodness.
The real benefit to using a liquid extract is that its ready to be mixed in with essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, camphor, coconut and olive oils for muscle pain relief. This makes a great addition to any commercial or homemade massage oil too. One ounce might not seem like it will go very far, but the serving sizes are very small – just a tiny drop’ll do ya, so this small bottle can really go a long way.
Starwest Botanicals Organic Cayenne Pepper Powder 35K H.U.,
This large one pound bag of non-irradiated cayenne powder is for those of you who want the best hands-down price on all your supplements, without making any sacrifices in quality. Starwest is another favorite of mine. All their products are organic certified and this one is also Kosher. No animal products are used in the growing or manufacturing process.
This rich-red-colored powder doesn’t offer the heat units the other two above do, but not everyone can handle over 100,000 heat units two or three times a day. This milder version offers a respectable 35,000 heat units and is very popular among consumers who like to add their capsaicin to food. You can mix the powder in all your favorite spicy dishes, stir it into some water or fruit juice and also add it to topical pain relievers and massage oils. With a full pound in each bag, you know this Starwest supplement will last for a while (just make sure you store it in the fridge or freezer to preserve the heat units).
With its limited side effects and wide array of health benefits to the heart and digestive tract, and the fact that its such a potent internal and topical pain reliever, there’s no question that all of us should be getting more capsaicin in our diet.
Whether you use it for occasional pain relief, or take it long-term for the prevention of heart disease or to treat cancer, cayenne and its main ingredient, capsaicin should be a staple in every kitchen cupboard and medicine cabinet!