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If you aren’t into cooking, you might not think twice about something like a cayenne pepper. But, if we tell you that it has more to it than just culinary uses and it has potential health benefits, you will definitely care more about it!

What is cayenne pepper?

Cayenne pepper belongs to the species Capsicum annuum, which is native to certain parts of North and South America. Bell peppers, jalapeños and other mild as well as hot peppers belong to the same species. Cayenne pepper has various culinary and medicinal uses-whether in it’s natural form or dried and powdered form.

It is traditionally used to spice up curries and sauces and other savoury dishes, but many creative chefs have now started using it in desserts to cut the sweetness and to give it that spicy punch. It is also used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicines owing to its numerous health benefits.

Nutrition Facts

Cayenne peppers are a great source of many vitamins, especially Vitamin A, vitamin C, B complex vitamins like niacin, riboflavin and pyridoxine. It also contains high amounts of minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium.

The nutrients provided by 100 gm of cayenne pepper is given in the table below[1]-


Values per 100 gm
Energy​
318 kcal​
Protein​
12.01 g​
Fat​
17.27 g​
Total Fiber​
27.2 g​
Calcium​
148 mg​
Magnesium​
152 mg​
Potassium​
2014 mg​
Vitamin C​
76.4 mg​
Vitamin A​
41610 IU​

The active component of all peppers is CAPSAICIN, which imparts pungency, hotness and spiciness and is known to have various positive effects in the body.

5 grams of cayenne pepper contains the following %RDA of vitamins

cayenne pepper graph 1.jpg

Health benefits

Researches have proven that cayenne pepper can be beneficial for treating various ailments. Here are a few of them-

1. Aids in Digestion

Cayenne peppers have a great impact on the digestive system. Studies have shown that capsaicin (the active ingredient of cayenne pepper) enhances the production of saliva[2], which is extremely essential for digestion. Contrary to the belief that spices cause ulcers, cayenne has proven to prevent or hasten the healing of gastric ulcers by decreasing the gastric acid secretions, increasing alkali and mucous production and enhancing gastric blood flow[3].

2. Helps in Joint and nerve pain

Capsaicin in cayenne peppers is known to act as an analgesic, which means that it helps in relieving pain. Pain is felt when certain receptors, known as transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) are activated.

Topical exposure to capsaicin reduces this activity, thereby reducing pain. Hence, skin patches or creams containing capsaicin are popular for controlling localised pain[3].

3. Enhances metabolism and aids in weight loss

Capsaicin is known for its metabolism boosting effects. Studies have shown that cayenne peppers may stimulate brown fat, thereby increasing the metabolic rate. It activates certain receptors, known as the transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) receptors, which cause this effect. It moderately increases the energy expenditure, enhances fat oxidation and suppresses appetite[3].

Another study found that a meal containing a little amount of cayenne pepper can help to suppress the hunger hormone- ghrelin[4]. However, long term intake of spicy food does not have a significant effect on these[5].

4. Useful in Psoriasis and other skin issues

Psoriasis is a long-lasting autoimmune skin disease which causes abnormally fast multiplication of skin cells. It leads to red, itchy and scaly skin, either in patches, or all over the body. Cayenne pepper has been shown to block the activation of transcription factors NF-κB and AP-1 in-vitro. Two studies have shown that topical application of 0.025% cream can effectively treat psoriasis[6].

Capsaicin present in cayenne pepper has also shown to have bactericidal properties, which may help to protect against infection by a pathogen-Streptococcus pyogenes[7].

5. Helps relieve Cold and Flu

Cayenne pepper contains a lot of antioxidants which help to boost immunity. Vitamin, A, C, zinc have a positive impact on the disease-fighting action of the body. Research suggests that topical application of capsaicin effectively reduces nasal congestion and discharge in allergic as well as non-allergic rhinitis.

Another study showed a significant and quick relief in symptoms of rhinitis[8]. Owing to its thermogenic properties, it helps to increase the body temperature. This makes you sweat, thereby eliminating the toxins from the body.

6. Has Anti-cancer properties

Cayenne pepper, due to its capsaicin content, has shown to have strong anti-cancer properties since it targets multiple signaling pathways and cancer-associated genes in different stages of tumor growth[9]. Data from a study conducted in California suggests that it may have a role in managing prostrate cancer[10].

7. Relieves Migraine pain

A study was conducted to test whether cayenne pepper can help to relieve the migraine pain. They found that administration of 0.1% capsaicin (derived from the peppers) jelly caused a significant relief in arterial pain in the absence of and also during a migraine attack[11].

8. May reduce Blood pressure

Hypertension or high blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for cardio-vascular diseases. Cayenne pepper is known to exert antihypertensive effect in the body via several mechanisms such as releasing vasodialators, stimulating diuresis, etc.

Also, administration of isoflavones along with capsaicin in patients with hypertension along with alopecia caused a significant reduction in the systolic as well as diastolic blood pressure[14].

9. Helps in normalising the lipid profile

Dyslipidemia is one of the major causes of mortality in the world. Elevated triglycerides, cholesterol and other abnormalities in the parameters pose a greater risk for heart diseases. Cayenne peppers have shown to decrease total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL and increase the HDL levels.

This hypolipidemic effect may be due to various factors such as activation of PPARα, reduction in intestinal activation of cholesterol or even increase in excretion of cholesterol through faeces[14].

10. Aids in detox

Cayenne pepper is known to help in the digestive and lymphatic systems[2]. It also has great antioxidant properties. This greatly helps to remove toxins and harmful chemicals from the body. Its thermogenic effect also causes detoxification of the body through increased sweating.


Uses of Cayenne pepper

Cayenne pepper is available in varied forms in the market. You can purchase them whole, sun dried or powdered.

If you are buying a powdered form, it is important to buy from trusted brands, since many times, the quality of the powdered mix or the cayenne pepper itself is not up to standards. There are also a lot of organic brands available in the market.

You can also buy natural, whole peppers, sun dry them and powder them at home. This way, you can be sure of its quality.

Cayenne pepper has a lot of culinary uses.
  • It is used as a spice in cooking for dishes like, soups, broths, curries and gravies.
  • It goes really well with seafood like scallops, oysters, sardines, crab and lobsters.
  • It adds a great smoky, pungent taste when added to the marination used for meats.
  • It can also be added to drinks to give it a kick of spice.
  • It is one of the main ingredients of Worcestershire sauce, which is used for flavouring meats, stews and even in beverages like Bloody Mary.
Many companies have also developed cayenne pepper capsules which can be taken like pills. Medicated lotions and creams containing capsaicin are also available as over-the-counter products.

Storage

Cayenne pepper should be stored in dark containers, as sunlight affects its quality. Also, buy it in small quantities and use it up quickly, since long term storage can reduce its pungency.

Risks and precautions

Capsaicin has been generally recognised as safe by the USFDA as an external analgesic. However, it is not safe for blisters or cold sores and precaution should be taken while applying topical ointments on open wounds[12].

Also, if you are taking blood thinners like warfarin, it is recommended that you talk to your medical practitioner about using cayenne pepper or capsaicin products, since they may have an adverse drug-nutrient interaction[13].

Did you know?

The hotness of peppers and other foods is described by a measurement known as the Scoville scale and the unit is known as Scoville heat units (SHU). As per this scale, cayenne pepper has 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. In comparison, bell peppers have 0 SHU!


References
1. fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170932/nutrients
2. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27347918
3. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4477151/
4. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695870/
5. sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938410004063
6. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92761/
7. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4643145/
8. jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(18)31935-3/fulltext
9. ar.iiarjournals.org/content/36/3/837.long
10. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16540674
11. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17365137
12. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10902065
13. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10902065
14. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6000222/