#FACTS Capsaicin is an active component of chili peppers, which are plants belonging to the genus Capsicum. It is an irritant for mammals, including humans, and produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact. Capsaicin and several related compounds are called capsaicinoids and are produced as secondary metabolites by chili peppers, probably as deterrents against certain mammals and fungi. Pure capsaicin is a volatile, hydrophobic, colorless, odorless, crystalline to waxy compound.
The compound was first extracted in impure form in 1816 by Christian Friedrich Bucholz (1770–1818). He called it “capsicin”, after the genus Capsicum from which it was extracted. John Clough Thresh (1850–1932), who had isolated capsaicin in almost pure form, gave it the name “capsaicin” in 1876. Karl Micko isolated capsaicin in its pure form in 1898. Capsaicin’s chemical composition was first determined by E. K. Nelson in 1919, who also partially elucidated capsaicin’s chemical structure. Capsaicin was first synthesized in 1930 by Ernst Spath and Stephen F. Darling. In 1961, similar substances were isolated from chili peppers by the Japanese chemists S. Kosuge and Y. Inagaki, who named them capsaicinoids.
Here are seven reasons to turn up the heat in your next meal.
1. Fight Cancer
A study published in Cancer Research found that capsaicin caused cancer cells to commit suicide. The substance caused almost 80 percent of prostate cancer cells to die in mice, and prostate tumors treated with capsaicin were about one-fifth the size of those in untreated mice.
“Capsaicin inhibits the growth of human prostate cancer cells in petri dishes and mice,” says lead researcher Dr. H. Phillip Koeffler, director of hematology and oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Further, researchers say capsaicin pills may one day be used to prevent the return of prostate cancer.
The Scoville Scale:
How Hot is Your Pepper?
Hot peppers’ heat is measured using the Scoville Heat Scale. While pure capsaicin measures in at over 16 million Scoville Units, most popular varieties rank around 30,000.
Bell peppers make up the baseline, at zero Scoville Units. While the habañero pepper was once thought to be the hottest pepper, measuring in at 300,000 units, an Indian chili pepper called Naga Jolokia was tested in 2000 and received a searing score of 855,000 units!
2. Provide Pain Relief
A topical form of capsaicin is a recognized treatment for osteoarthritis pain, and may also help alleviate pain from diabetic neuropathy.
Capsaicin is also known to inhibit Substance P, a neuropeptide that is the key transmitter of pain to the brain. Substance P can cause swelling of nerve fibers, which may result in headaches and sinus symptoms. Studies have found that capsaicin both relieves and prevents cluster headaches, migraine headaches and sinus headaches.
3. Prevent Sinusitis and Relieve Congestion
Capsaicin has potent antibacterial properties that fight and prevent chronic sinus infections, or sinusitis. Because it is so hot, it also helps to stimulate secretions that help clear mucus from your nose, thereby relieving nasal congestion. This phytochemical may also help relieve sinus-related allergy symptoms.
4. Fight Inflammation
Capsaicin is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. It works by inhibiting Substance P, which is associated with inflammatory processes. Capsaicin is being looked at as a potential treatment for arthritis, psoriasis and diabetic neuropathy.
5. Soothe Intestinal Diseases
A Duke University study found that capsaicin may lead to a cure for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The substance can also help to kill bacteria such as H. pylori, which can help prevent stomach ulcers.
6. Burn Fat and Lose Weight
Capsaicin is a thermogenic agent, which means it increases metabolic activity. This, in turn, helps to burn calories and fat. Many popular “fat-burning” supplements on the market contain capsaicin, as the substance may significantly increase metabolic activity for over 20 minutes after it’s eaten.
7. Protect Your Heart
Capsaicin may help to protect the heart by reducing cholesterol, triglycerides and platelet aggregation. It may also help the body dissolve fibrin, which is necessary for blood clots to form. Further, cultures around the world that use hot peppers liberally in their meals have significantly lower rates of heart attack and stroke than cultures that do not.