Who would have thought one of the hottest foods could also be the most soothing? Capsaicin, the compound in hot peppers that gives them their kick and pepper spray its burn, has become increasingly used in pain-support aids and weight-management supplements. To put it into perspective, on the Scoville Scale (i.e., the rating system for hot peppers) bell peppers rank at zero, jalapenos are right in the middle with 2,500 Scoville units, habenero is at the top with 80,000 units, but pure capsaicin crushes them all at 16,000,000 units, making it capable of causing chemical burns when touched or gagging if inhaled (1). As a supplement, however, so little is used that these bad effects are toned way down, while the benefits are still available for the millions of Americans suffering from common painful health and weight conditions.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2010, 50 million adults were diagnosed with a form of arthritis, meaning at least 22% of American adults are suffering from daily joint pain. In addition, currently 33.8% of American adults and 17% of children are obese. Also marketed as cayenne, capsaicin supplements could be your next best-selling product to help your customers with their pain and weight problems.
Capasaicin may sound like the opposite of a pain reliever, but studies have shown that topical creams containing small amounts of the potent compound are capable of lessening joint, muscle and skin pain. Too much can burn the skin, but most creams have a range of added capsaicin between 0.025% and 0.075% (although there is one product that boasts 0.1% capsaicin) depending on the pain severity. Capsaicin reduces substance P, a chemical messenger that alerts the brain of pain. When the messages are stopped, relief takes the place of pain (2). This reduction is especially helpful for patients recovering from surgery, suffering from nerve disorders like diabetic neuropathy or skin conditions like psoriasis (3). Because of its ability to reduce substance P, studies are being conducted to use capsaicin to support those with arthritis since substance P’s influence on type C sensory neurons may be a factor in arthritic inflammation (4).
Clinician Chad Deal, M.D., utilized capsaicin for his patients in managing arthritis pain in a report from 1994. He stated that incorporating capsaicin cream into his patients’ treatment effectively reduced substance P from type C neurons; the neurons stopped synthesizing, storing and releasing substance P and pain messages ceased to be sent. Patients with one or two painful joints were treated with a pea-sized dollop of cream, starting with 0.025% capsaicin and moving up to 0.075% for those with more pain, three to four times a day for two weeks. If relief occurred in less than two weeks, application was reduced to twice a day. Deal reports that more than half of his patients responded favorably to the treatments, causing him to support capsaicin creams as an effective treatment for joint and arthritis pains (4).
As a pain-relieving cream, the most common side effect is a burning sensation at the application area, which goes away with continuous usage for up to two weeks (3). In Deal’s report, patients reported the pain of application stopping after a few days, but got worse if applied before bathing or exercising (4). It is advised to avoid getting the cream in eyes, mucus membranes, open cuts or broken skin. Always use gloves while applying the cream, and wash hands thoroughly with vinegar, since cayenne does not easily dissolve in water (2). The best way to keep your shoppers at ease about the possible side effects is to advise them to test a small amount on their skin first before using the full recommended dosage.
Diet and Digestion
Consuming capsaicin in supplement form also has healthful effects. Capsaicin helps increase digestive fluids in the stomach and fights unwanted bacteria reducing the risk of infection and diarrhea caused by bacterial infections (3). Digestive discomfort can be prevented by using some branded capsaicin supplements with a special coating and time-release system. Because capsaicin could increase digestive fluids, there are some possible negative drug interactions, including raising the risk of coughing with ACE inhibitors and other high blood pressure medications, making stomach acid reducers and aspirin ineffective, increasing the risk of bleeding with blood-thinners, lowering blood sugar for people with diabetes and absorbing too much theophylline, a medication used to treat asthma (2).
In addition to improving digestion, capsaicin could be the new, hot answer to literally burning away fat. Some studies are showing that ingesting capsaicin supplements has the ability to aid in healthy weight loss. While hot peppers help in digestion, the dietary supplement form may be able to take it a step further.
One study tested the effects of a low-calorie, high-protein diet with a supplement imitating capsaicin. Over four weeks, 33 subjects ate a daily 800 kcal/d, 120g/d protein diet with three to nine milligrams of the natural supplement. At the end of the study, they found an increase in post-prandial thermogenesis (heat production following a meal, during which metabolic rate is increased) and fat oxidation (the conversion of fat into energy) (5). The study concludes that capsaicin may have a positive effect on weight loss by increasing metabolism after four weeks with a limited diet (5).
Another study shows that a high-fat diet and blood sugar problems could also be benefited by capsaicin. In the 2009 study, obese mice were fed a high-fat diet with 0.015% capsaicin for 10 weeks. After the 10 weeks, decreases were found in insulin and leptin levels, with less inflammation and macrophage infiltration. Capsaicin was able to bind with and increase PPAR-alpha, a nuclear receptor protein, in the liver, and reduced impairment of glucose tolerance. “Our data suggest that dietary capsaicin may reduce obesity-induced glucose intolerance by not only suppressing inflammatory responses, but also enhancing fatty acid oxidation in adipose tissue and/or liver, both of which are important peripheral tissues affecting insulin resistance,” said the study’s author (6). According to the study, capsaicin could help reduce the risk of obesity or insulin complications for people with diabetes.
Anyone with a sensitive stomach will have a “spicy food” story, which they chalk up to the effects of capsaicin. Heart burn and stomach irritation are two possibilities when orally taking or eating a capsaicin supplement. Too much could lead to ulcers but moderate doses are considered safe. An allergic reaction is possible, especially for people with existing latex, banana, kiwi, chestnut or avocado allergies, and pregnant or nursing women are advised to avoid it as capsaicin does pass into breast milk (2).
Pain relievers and weight-loss products are always in high demand, so give your customers a new, hot option, and set your supplement sales ablaze. WF
1. “The Scoville Scale,” www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/chilli/scoville.htm, accessed Dec. 19, 2011.
2. University of Maryland Medical Center, “Cayenne,”www.umm.
edu/altmed/articles/cayenne--000230.htm, accessed Dec. 19, 2011.
3. WebMD.com, “Capsaicin—Topic Overview,” www.webmd.com/pain-management/tc/capsaicin-topic-overview, accessed Dec. 19, 2011.
4. C.L. Deal, “The Use of Topical Capsaicin in Managing Arthritis Pain: A Clinician’s Prospective,” Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism 23 (6), 48–52 (1994).
5. T.A. Lee, et al., “Effects of Dihydrocapsiate on Adaptive and Diet-Induced Thermogenesis with a High Protein Very Low Calorie Diet: A Randomized Control Trial,” www.vitasearch.com/get-clp-summary/39376, accessed Dec. 19, 2011.
6. J.H. Kang, et al., “Dietary Capsaicin Reduces Obesity-induced Insulin Resistance and Hepatic Steatosis in Obese Mice Fed a High-fat Diet,” www.vitasearch.com/get-clp-summary/38567, accessed Dec. 21, 2011
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, February 2012