11 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper
What is Cayenne Pepper?
Cayenne pepper is a common ingredient that you’ll find in many of the foods you regularly eat.
It’s primarily added to dishes to give them a bit of a kick, giving many popular meals a spicy flavor. As a a type of chili pepper, it’s very versatile for cooking.
It gets its name from Cayenne, the capital city of French Guiana, where the pepper was thought to be first used.
Cayenne peppers come in at 30,000-50,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units). For comparison, the fabled Carolina Reaper, thought to be the hottest chili pepper in the world, sits at around 1,569,300 SHU.
This means that cayenne peppers are perfectly pitched when it comes to heat. For most people, this means it offers just enough spice – but so much that it could cause you to break out in a sweat (or worse).
Cayenne pepper is usually red in color and is added to food either as it is, as a powder, or even as a sauce. You can use it to make anything from fish tacos to curries and even some desserts.
Cayenne actually means pepper, so cayenne pepper literally means ‘pepper pepper’! The chili family is very large, yet cayenne pepper is one of the most frequently used in cuisine around the whole world.
Cayenne pepper has also been used medicinally for many different reasons. It is thought to have some pain relief properties and is used in some topical ointments to reduce pain for many different conditions.
The active ingredient that gives cayenne peppers these effects is capsaicin. Capsaicin has shown to assist vascular and metabolic health and the good news is that cayenne peppers are filled with it.
Cayenne pepper is also thought to have the ability to help burn fat. Because it’s a spicy ingredient, it can cause your body temperature to temporarily increase.
This in turn can boost your metabolism and help to burn off more calories. For this reason, cayenne pepper can be classified as a thermogenic ingredient.
Thermogenic simply means that it produces heat. There are many other foods which can promote a thermogenic response, such as garlic, turmeric, coffee and even green tea.
As a result, you’ll also see cayenne pepper (and many of these other ingredients) in many fat burning supplements. It’s a popular additive because it has many of the benefits we’ll outline below. It’s also a natural, non-synthetic ingredient which means it is not harmful.
Benefits of cayenne pepper
1. It could burn fat and prevent hunger
We all know that snacking is the curse of the office worker. Getting through a 9-5 is hard enough without the temptation to graze throughout the day, particularly if your office has communal snacks.
Luckily cayenne pepper can help to reduce your snack cravings by making you feel full throughout the day.
Snacking less = less calories, which obviously means less fat. One study showed that you could eat as much as 16% less thanks to the effects of the capsaicin in cayenne peppers. Who wouldn’t want to cut out on those unnecessary calories?!
If you’re looking for more good news, then we’ve got you covered. Because not only can cayenne pepper reduce hunger cravings, it can also help to burn fat. As you may know, stomach fat, also known as visceral fat, can be really harmful to your health.
Studies have shown that many chili peppers have metabolism-boosting effects and cayenne pepper is no different. The metabolism-boosting effects of cayenne pepper are not huge.
But combined with a healthy diet and a great workout, it could give you a slight advantage in the battle against belly fat.
2. It could help relieve pain
Due to the presence of capsaicin, cayenne has also been shown to contain some anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, capsaicin is used as a topical cream for pain relief.
This is because it is thought to reduce level of Substance P (SP) – a neuropeptide associated with pain.
Cayenne pepper’s active ingredient is used to provide temporary relief from the following conditions:
- Muscle or joint pain (caused by strains, sprains, backaches, bruising or arthritis)
- Nerve pain (especially in people who suffer from shingles or herpes zoster)
- Pain after surgery
Note: Experts say you should not inhale capsaicin as it can cause irritation in the nasopharynx (such as tearing or sneezing). You should also avoid applying capsaicin cream to open wounds as it could cause burning sensations.
3. May promote digestive health
Cayenne pepper’s benefits don’t end there. Research also shows that the fruit may promote digestive health in several ways…
First, it could help fortify the stomach’s defense against infection – and it’s the active ingredient, capsaicin, which is once again the star of the show here.
Capsaicin is said to stimulate afferent neurons in the stomach. One study by Satyanarayana, showed that this could lead to protection against “injury causing agents”.
Capsaicin could help prevent stomach ulcers. How? According to the study referenced above (see 7), the compound achieves this by inhibiting the secretion of acid, while stimulating alkali and mucus secretions.
Cayenne pepper’s active ingredient is also said to help the stomach produce more fluid, which is thought to deliver more digestion-promoting enzymes.
This in turn could help the body break down food more easily and promote the absorption of vital nutrients.
4. May help relieve cold symptoms
Cayenne pepper is often used as a remedy for coughs, yet there is no published research to verify the fruit extract’s use for this purpose.
So now you’re wondering why we’ve included cold relief on this list – and we get that. But hear us out…
As we’ve already stated a few times in this article, cayenne pepper contains capsaicin. And research shows that the active compound is anti-inflammatory and boasts expectorant properties.
In other words, it could help break up mucus and soothe coughs. Some anecdotal evidence suggests it works best as a cough remedy when mixed with apple cider vinegar and (sometimes) honey.
Runny nose (non-allergic)
Work published in the Current Allergy and Asthma Reports in 2016 revealed capsaicin could treat “non-allergic rhinitis” when applied as a nasal spray.
Now – you may have noticed that spicy food can cause a runny nose (or make an existing one worse). It is also capsaicin that is thought to do this.
Yet this initial mild irritation is said to be followed by a longer lasting period during which symptoms improve.
5. Could reduce blood sugar
Remember earlier in this piece when we said capsaicin has been shown to promote healthy digestion?
Well, the July 2006 issue of “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” says chili pepper could also help the body absorb blood sugar from the small intestine more efficiently.
During the study, human subjects ate a meal containing cayenne pepper. The results? Blood sugar levels were lower between 20 and 120 minutes after consumption. What’s more, a subgroup of people had eaten a cayenne-rich meal for one whole month prior to testing.
And afterward, subjects were found to be less sensitive to blood sugar. This suggests that long-term cayenne pepper consumption could help prevent diabetes (or ease the symptoms) and further speed up weight loss.
6. May reduce risk of certain types of cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is a “leading cause of cancer death among both men and women” in the United States.
More specifically, most deaths are caused by the cancer spreading (metastasizing) from its original source to other parts of the body.
New research from Marshall University (in West Virginia) suggests capsaicin could inhibit lung cancer metastasis by “inhibiting the activation of the Src protein” .
Another study by Young-Joon Surh (of Seoul National University) also claims that capsaicin “makes tumor cells commit suicide”.
7. Thought to lower blood pressure
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 75 million of American adults – that’s 29% or 1 in 3! – suffer from high blood pressure.
With this in mind, you may be interested to find out cayenne pepper could help reduce blood pressure. A lack of human studies exist, yet animal research suggests its active ingredient has great promise as a way to reduce high blood pressure.
One 2010 study by Yang et al focuses on capsaicin’s effects on mice. This research shows that long-term consumption of capsaicin (and other spicy compounds) could increase nitric oxide (NO) production, which in turn may help dilate the blood vessels and reduce blood pressure.
Another study (published in June 2015) showed that capsaicin may also relax blood vessels in pigs. Again, this may reduce blood pressure – which leads us neatly to the next potential benefit of cayenne pepper…
8. Can protect the heart
Healthy blood pressure levels put less pressure on the heart, meaning it doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood around the body.
By clearing fatty deposits in the arteries, cayenne pepper could also help prevent blood clots, which may provide effective protection against heart attacks.
9. Could reduce psoriasis symptoms
The UK’s NHS website describes psoriasis as a “skin condition that causes red, flaky, crusty patches of skin covered with silvery scales”.
While the same article says there is no cure for psoriasis, capsaicin is thought to help reduce redness, patchiness and scaling when applied to the skin as a topical cream.
A study from the University of Connecticut shows that chili peppers could “calm the gut”, which could lead to therapies for colitis and diabetes.
10. May improve skin and hair health
An article from The Times of India declares that when mixed with olive oil, cayenne pepper may “improve glossiness and fullness”, as well as hair growth. At first, we couldn’t find any published research to back up this claim.
However, a study from experts at Nagoya City University (in Japan) suggests that a blend of capsaicin and isoflavone “might increase IGF-1 production in hair follicles in the skin”.
The authors of the research (Harada et al) say this might be due to “sensory neuron activation in the skin”.
11. Said to reduce headaches
Back in 2007, The New York Times claimed that capsaicin may provide relief for people who suffer from “chronic headaches”. And digging a little deeper, this appears to be confirmed by The National Headache Foundation (NHF).
The NHF cites a study by Alexianu et al, which studied the effects of capsaicin on 18 adult human subjects suffering from migraines or severe headaches. During the study, 13 of the 18 patients (72%) reported “complete pain relief”.
Words of precaution
An ever-increasing body of research suggests that cayenne pepper may be safe to take by mouth, when applied to the skin and when used in the nasal passage.
However, it may cause the following side effects:
When taken by mouth
- Stomach upset
- Runny nose (short-term)
- Sweating and flushing
When applied to skin
- Watery eyes
- Cocaine: webmd.com suggests cayenne pepper could “increase the side effects of cocaine”. These include “heart attack” and “death” (see reference 26).
- Anticoagulants: As described in this article, cayenne pepper may reduce blood clotting. When taken with prescribed blood thinners like benazepril and others, this could increase the risk of “bruising and bleeding” (see reference 26).
The Final Word
There is a wealth of evidence highlighting how cayenne pepper offers an array of potential benefits – much of which is backed by science.
The bad stuff
The only bad thing we can say about cayenne pepper? Well, you need to be careful if you’re taking anticoagulants of antihypertensive drugs, because when mixed with cayenne pepper, this could lower your blood pressure too much.
The good stuff
Phew! There’s a lot to go over here. The undoubted star behind cayenne pepper’s many prospective perks is capsaicin – the active compound that is said to promote everything from weight loss and hunger control, to relief from migraines, improved digestive health, suppression of cold symptoms and improved skin and hair health.
In addition, cayenne pepper (or its active ingredient) can be used as a food supplement, topical cream, nasal spray or condiment.
With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that so many manufacturers include cayenne pepper (or capsaicin) in their products.