Red pepper owes its heat and its value in herbal healing to one chemical found in its fruit – capsaicin. Below is a list of it’s many benefits.
- Digestive aid: Red pepper aids digestion by stimulating the flow of both saliva and stomach secretions. Saliva contains enzymes that begin the breakdown of carbohydrate, while stomach secretions (gastric juices) contain acids and other substances that further digest food.
- Diarrhea: Like many culinary spices, red pepper has antibacterial properties, possibly explaining traditional claims that it helps relieve infectious diarrhea.
- Chronic pain: For centuries, herbalists have recommended rubbing red pepper into the skin to treat muscle and joint pains. Medically, this is known as using a counter irritant, a treatment that causes minor superficial pain and distracts the person from the more severe, deeper pain. Several capsaicin counter irritants are available over-the-counter. Recently, however, red pepper has been shown to possess real pain-relieving properties for certain kinds of chronic pain. For reasons still not completely understood, capsaicin interferes with the action of the chemical in the peripheral nerves that sends pain messages to the brain. Several recent studies all showed capsaicin so effective at relieving a particular type of chronic pain.
- Shingles: Shingles is an adult disease caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox in children. The virus remains dormant in the body until later in life when, for unknown reasons, it reappears in some people as shingles, causing a rash on one side of the body that progresses from red bumps to blisters to crusty pox resembling chicken pox. In otherwise healthy adults, shingles clears up by itself within three weeks. But some people, typically the elderly or those with other illnesses, particularly Hodgkin’s disease, suffer severe, chronic pain. With the help of capsaicin, they don’t have to suffer as much.
- Diabetic foot pain: Capsaicin’s pain-relieving ability has also led to its use in treating the severe ankle and foot pain known as burning foot syndrome, which affects approximately half of all diabetics. In one study, 71% of diabetics reported significant relief after four weeks.
- Cluster Headaches: Capsaicin also helps relieve the pain of cluster headaches, extremely severe pain on one side of the head. In one study, cluster headache sufferers rubbed a capsaicin preparation inside their nostrils and outside their nose. Within five days, 75% reported less pain and fewer headaches. Though they also reported burning nostrils and a runny nose, these side effects subsided within a week.
Red pepper may help cut cholesterol and prevent heart disease. While it is too early to recommend red pepper as a means of lowering cholesterol and treating heart disease, this common kitchen spice may someday have a role to play in these areas. In food, season to taste, but be careful. A little too much can set the mouth on fire. For an infusion to aid digestion and possibly help reduce risk of heart disease, use1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per cup of boiling water. Drink it after meals. For external application to help treat pain, mix 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per cup of warm vegetable oil and rub it into the affected area.