Hot peppers are known for giving people a burning sensation, because, well, they’re hot, right? But what is it about peppers that makes them hot? It turns out they contain capsaicin, which is a molecular compound you’d also find in some popular pain-reliever pills. Capsaicin has no dietary content (such as calories or nutrients) but it gives the eater a “burning sensation.” Found in every part of the pepper except for the seed, capsaicin is thought to have many benefits.
Research has shown that capsaicin essentially calms painful nerves, muscles and joints. In Science Signaling, a peer-reviewed scientific weekly journal, Tibor Rohacs and a team of researchers from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School reported how a nerve mechanism is activated by capsaicin to block pain signals. Essentially, capsaicin works like a local analgesic.
Rohacs’ team looked at ion channels in sensory nerve terminals that respond to heat. They focused on the capsaicin receptor and concluded that the pain-causing, heat sensor ion channel does something to the nerves that, in the long run, silences or desensitizes them. So, in essence, capsaicin helps calm nerves, inhibiting mechanical pain. Of particular note was Rohacs conclusion that capsaicin works fast and robustly, with long lasting effects.
For now, if a person really wants to feel relief from capsaicin, they’d need it injected into them along with a local analgesic, though some people buy capsaicin creams and other over-the-counter medications to use for “some relief.” That said, maybe just adding hot peppers to one’s diet might “do the trick” in helping ease nerve pain?! It’s worth a try! By the way, the more capsaicin a pepper contains, the spicier it is.
If you’re looking to try peppers, look for these keywords: cayenne, jalapeno, habanero, and serrano– the most popular varieties of chili peppers. In the U.S., most peppers are imported from Mexico. You can eat them fresh, dried or powdered (known as paprika).
Eating peppers tends to give people an endorphin rush. People with neuropathic pain, arthritis, and itchy dermatological conditions stand to benefit most from eating hot peppers in whatever form they can tolerate. Some say hot peppers help with weight loss, too, by reducing calorie intake and even shrinking fat tissue.
The verdict? Eat more hot peppers for your overall health.