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Hooked on Hot Sauce… For Your Health

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By: burgundy bug

A miniature red pepper sits on the palm of burgndy bug’s hand

Source: Apple (of my Eye) Picking | Penelope Peru Photography

Holy hot sauce and jalapeños, are you aware of all the health benefits associated with spicy foods? Probably not.

Contrary to popular belief, spicy food doesn’t cause ulcers – it may actually cure them. Additional health benefits associated with the heat include pain relief, a boost to your metabolism, improved heart health, and cancer-suppression.

But First – What is Capsaicin?

Capsaicin is the active compound in chilli peppers and other plants in the Capsicum genus (think bell peppers, cayenne peppers, jalapeño peppers, etc…).

This compound does far more than set your mouth ablaze; for quite some time now, capsaicin has been recognized for its potential health benefits, says a U.S. Pharmacist article.

The Health Benefits of Spicy Food

Fight Fire with Fire: Spice v.s. Stomach Ulcers

Although spicy foods are among the first your doctor will recommend you eliminate if you have stomach ulcers, research shows capsaicin may actually cure them.

According to a 2006 Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition article, capsaicin inhibits stomach acid secretion. It also stimulates alkali (the opposite of acid), mucus secretion, and mucus blood flow – all of which, assist in preventing and healing stomach ulcers.

Then Why Do I Experience Stomach Pain After Eating Spicy Foods?

Some individuals can handle the heat better than others. How frequently you consume spicy foods may also play a role in how your body reacts to them.

A 2016 Neurogastroenterology & Motility study shows individuals who dabble in the spice more often were more likely to experience upper gastrointestinal symptoms (heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting).

Read: A hot topic: Are spicy foods healthy or dangerous?

UChicago Medicine

Capsaicin, Pain Releif, and Anti-Inflammation

“Capsaicin has been used in several clinical settings as a topical medication to treat pain derived from different conditions,” says a 2016 Molecules journal review. “The USA Regulatory authorities have approved capsaicin as an eight percent dermal patch for treating local pain.”

The spice compound appears to be effective in treating neuropathic pain (pain caused by brain signals without there being an injury to trigger it).

While those with irritable bowel syndrome may have trouble tolerating spicy food, the review says small, oral doses of capsaicin have reduced abdominal pain in those with IBS.

Zucapsaicin, a synthetic version of capsaicin, has also been effective in treating knee osteoarthritis.

A 2018 Reumotologiá Clínica review says topical capsaicin may be effective in treating other forms of osteoarthritis, as well.

“Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder worldwide,” the review begins. “The predominant symptom, pain, is usually treated with acetaminophen or oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, although they are associated with a significant risk of side effects.”

“Topical Capsaicin may represent an effective and safe alternative.”

Topical capsaicin for pain in osteoarthritis: A literature review | Reumotologiá Clínica

The studies referenced throughout the review show the effectiveness of topical capsaicin increases over time. Patients with osteoarthritis began to experience greater joint pain relief from capsaicin v.s. those treated with a placebo after about four weeks.

The disparity between the effectiveness of topical capsaicin v.s. placebo continued to increase over the coming weeks.

Skin irritation and burning were common side effects in those treated with topical capsaicin. But over time, these side effects began to decrease, too.

These results demonstrate the anti-inflammatory capabilities of capsaicin, as osteoarthritic pain is often the result of inflammation.

Spice Up Your Metabolism

Low doses of capsaicin have been effective in treating metabolic disorders, says a 2018 Nutrients journal review.

The way in which capsaicin modulates the metabolism can improve insulin sensitivity, decrease body fat, and improve heart as well as liver function.

“Chronic low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress play important roles in the development of these metabolic complications,” the review explains.

Furthermore, metabolic syndrome can increase the patient’s risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver syndrome. Overall, capsaicin seems to decrease the chances of these complications.

Throughout the review, various studies demonstrate how capsaicin controls insulin response, reduces fatty acid absorption, and reduces oxidative stress. All of which, protect various organs throughout the body and reduce the risk of obesity.

A 2017 Bioscience Reports review has similar findings. Their data shows consumption of capsaicin correlated with a lower prevalence of obesity.

Capsaicin increases oxygen consumption and body temperature, which increases the amount of energy your body uses, promoting weight loss.

Additionally, capsaicin can help regulate hunger and satiety. Those who ate red peppers at breakfast significantly decreased their protein, fat, and carbohydrate intake at lunch.

The cherry on top? The review says most of these studies reported little or no adverse effects associated with incorporating spice in the participants’ diets.

Hot For Heart Health

Compounding with the metabolic effects that help capsaicin reduce the risk of heart disease, a 2016 Nutrients journal review says the compound can also lower blood pressure.

Capsicaicin promotes the release of calcitonin gene-related peptide in various nerves and cells, decreasing blood pressure.

Dietary capsaicin also appeared to reduce excess salt consumption in mice, and excess salt intake is another risk factor for high blood pressure.

The metabolic and blood pressure effects come together in harmony to promote better heart health.

Capsaicin and Cancer Suppression

“It has been found that capsaicin can act as a cancer preventative agent and shows wide applications against various types of cancer.”

Capsaicin: From Plants to a Cancer-Suppressing Agent | Molecules

Capsaicin has been shown to alter cancer genes associated with cancer cell survival and growth, according to another 2016 Molecules journal review.

It’s not understood how these effects work, but it appears capsaicin prevents the rapid division of cancer cells by stopping their cycle and promoting apoptosis (cell death).

Apoptosis is a central “barrier against cancer development,” the review explains. When cells stop dying, they become malignant and cancerous.

“It has been recently demonstrated that capsaicin induces apoptosis in many types of cancer cell lines, including colon adenocarcinoma, pancreatic cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and many others, leaving normal cells unharmed,” the review says.

In Conclusion

“Burnin’ Up” by the Jonas Brothers music video

Source: Jonas Brothers – Burnin’ Up (Official Music Video) | Jonas Brothers

Capsaicin is burnin’ up, burnin’ up, for your health, baby. Researchers have been coming in hot with evidence that this spicy compound is good for the gut, good for the heart, good for the bod’ overall, and prevents the development of potentially fatal diseases.

However, too much of a good thing can always be a bad thing. Over frequent consumption of spice can leave your stomach feeling not-so-nice. In other words, it may induce episodes of diarrhea or vomiting.

On the other hand, many studies show the risks outweigh the benefits. Compared to other traditional treatment options, capsaicin is relatively safe with very minor adverse effects.

Spice up your life. Your body might just thank you.

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burgundy bug


A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. You can learn more about working with burgundy bug by visiting her portfolio website: burgundybug.com

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