Does cayenne have health benefits?

The capsaicin in cayenne pepper may have health benefits. Parade magazine recently had a small article about hot and spicy cayenne pepper — which I’ve rarely used. The article said that cayenne pepper, a centuries-old medicine, is a wonder food that treats common health conditions and is good for keeping to a diet.

I’m already obsessed with my keto-like low-carb high-fat diet, but there’s always room for new good things. 300×250 image ad So I did some online research and spoke about it with Melissa Brown, assistant professor in the University of St. Joseph’s nutrition and public health department.

Cayenne peppers are chili peppers related to bell peppers and jalapeños. The health benefits come from the pepper’s active ingredient capsaicin. The more capsaicin it contains, the hotter it is. Capsaicin is also added to topical creams and gels to reduce itching for conditions like psoriasis.

“The most evidence exists for the pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects,” Brown said, saying its used with arthritis and diabetic neuropathy. There’s also evidence “attributing weight-loss properties, cholesterol-lowering properties, and anti-cancer related properties to the compound.”

That’s not all. “Capsaicin can help clear up nasal congestion making it easier to breathe,” she said, “and can help stimulate the digestive system by increasing saliva production, and blood flow.”

Don’t get excited, Brown said, because “a lot of the research has been performed on animals, and studies in humans are needed before the evidence can be considered relevant and overwhelmingly convincing.”

• Hunger: Many studies show the capsaicin in cayenne peppers helps reduce hunger. One study showed that it reduces the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin.

• High blood pressure: An animal study showed that capsaicin helped relax blood vessels in pigs, leading to lower blood pressure.

• Stomach: Cayenne pepper may help boost the stomach’s defense against infections, increase digestive fluid production, and help deliver enzymes to the stomach, aiding digestion by stimulating nerves in the stomach that signal for protection against injury.

• Pain: Capsaicin helps reduce the amount of a neuropeptide produced by the body that travels to the brain to signal pain. Brown said the pepper’s pain-reducing benefit is likely the result of “altering a receptor in the body which then inhibits downstream actions such as the signal for pain.”

• Cancer: “Studies have shown that capsaicin can slow the growth of cancer cells and even cause cell death for many different types of cancer, including prostate, pancreatic, and skin cancer,” Healthline said, “although human studies are needed.”

Multiple animal studies “show that capsaicin is effective in treating lung cancer and pancreatic cancers, as well as breast and bladder cancers,” Lifetime Daily said.

• Weight loss: “Research suggests that capsaicin increases the thermogenic effect and results in increased energy expenditure and fat oxidation,” Brown said. “Burn more calories and lose more fat.”

How to take it: Add one teaspoon of powdered cayenne to a glass of water. Drink a few times a day, or sprinkle the powder on foods or add the peppers. You can also take 30- to 120-milligram capsules one to three times daily.

So I’ll add cayenne pepper to my diet and report back in a few months.

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