Cayenne Pepper, a Healthy Food That’s Worth the KickNutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
The health benefits of cayenne peppers are touted all over the Internet. There is the cayenne cleanse for losing weight or curing digestive problems. It is reportedly good for constipation, allergies, gas and even hypertension. One health professional even stated that “you can normalize blood pressure in three months with garlic, but when you add enough cayenne, it can happen in three days.”
So I became curious about this spice I cook with quite often and decided to do some research using credible sources to find out more about this pepper and determine whether it really has benefits for my health, aside from pleasing my taste buds.
Cayenne peppers are a type of chili pepper. These little peppers that pack a lot of spice belong to the nightshade family and are very closely related to bell peppers, jalapeños, paprika, and other similar peppers.
The word cayenne comes from the Greek meaning “to bite.” This is why people may say “it has a bite to it” when they eat something spicy.
It is believed these peppers are called “cayenne peppers” due to their origin, the Cayenne region of French Guiana. And reportedly Native Americans have used cayenne peppers for food and medicine for 9,000 years. It is also a staple in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.
Cayenne peppers are usually dried, ground and used as a powdered spice. It is popular in Cajun and Creole cooking. And in some cuisines, like Korean, the whole cayenne pepper is used.
You can use this pepper to season pretty much anything: meats, rice, vegetables and sauces.
I personally like to add it to my eggs in the morning for a little kick and flavor.
So what are the health benefits?
- Cayenne pepper may take the pain away.
A phytochemical called capsaicin is the reason why cayenne pepper is hot and spicy. Capsaicin is the most active ingredient in cayenne and provides many health benefits due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
“Capsaicin has powerful pain-relieving properties when applied to the skin. It reduces the amount of substance P, a chemical that carries pain messages to the brain, in your body,” reports the University of Maryland Medical Center.
“When there is less substance P, the pain messages no longer reach the brain, and you feel relief.”
There are several prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) lotions, creams and ointments that contain capsaicin and are used to provide relief from pain associated with arthritis, fibromyalgia, common muscle and joint pain and low back pain. It may even help relieve a toothache.
“Topical application of capsaicin is proved to alleviate pain in arthritis, postoperative neuralgia, diabetic neuropathy, psoriasis, etc.,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
It may even help with nerve pain from shingles and other painful skin conditions, but be sure to consult a doctor before you use topical products that contain capsaicin. And avoid using on open cuts and wounds.
- Cayenne pepper may help prevent stomach ulcers.
Some would argue that spicy foods, like cayenne, would cause stomach ulcers.
Contrarily, the NIH reports that “[c]apsaicin inhibits acid secretion, stimulates alkali and mucus secretion and particularly gastric mucosal blood flow which helps in prevention and healing of gastric ulcers.”
In addition to helping prevent stomach ulcers, the NIH reports that capsaicin acts as a digestive stimulant. It helps activate the salivary glands in the mouth. Saliva is key in the digestion process for a number of reasons, including its role in breaking down food. Capsaicin may also help improve gastric motility and stimulate digestive enzyme production.
Capsaicin may even modulate the intestinal ultrastructure “so as to enhance permeability to micronutrients.”
And anything that may help your body better absorb essential vitamins and minerals is definitely worth considering.
- Cayenne pepper may be an effective cancer fighter.
Many studies suggest that capsaicin may have anti-cancer activities in several cancer cells, including prostate cancer.
“Capsaicin, the pungent ingredient of red hot chili peppers, has been shown to have anti-cancer activities in several cancer cells, including prostate cancer,” reports the NIH.
- Cayenne pepper may lower blood pressure and help prevent heart disease.
Credible research supports the finding that spicy foods in general may help lower blood pressure.
One study found that capsaicin lowered blood pressure in genetically hypertensive rats. Capsaicin may help improve endothelial function and promote vasorelaxation (reduction in tension of blood vessel walls).
Another study found that capsaicin lowered blood pressure in pigs.
Several reports also praise capsaicin for its ability to improve poor circulation, reverse excessive blood clotting, lower high cholesterol and so much more.
“In rodent studies, capsaicin-rich diets have shown favourable effects on atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver, cardiac hypertrophy, hypertension and stroke risk,” reports the NIH.
And just one tablespoon of cayenne pepper contains 107 mg of potassium. This mineral works with sodium to balance the fluids and electrolytes in your body, it helps keep blood pressure under control and may help reduce kidney stones and bone loss as you age. It may also help decrease your risk for stroke.
- Cayenne pepper may aid you in your weight loss goals.
We are almost done with the first month of the new year. And many of us may be trying to lose those extra pounds.
Eating spicy food may help you slow down when you eat and consume less calories. It may even help suppress your appetite.
The capsaicin in cayenne pepper may also help you lose weight by increasing metabolism and helping your body better break down fat.
“Addition of capsaicin (CAPS) to the diet has been shown to increase energy expenditure; therefore capsaicin is an interesting target for anti-obesity therapy,” reports the National Institute of Health (NIH).
You have likely heard of the Master Cleanse Lemonade Diet Beyoncé and other celebrities have followed to lose weight. The ingredients in the lemonade diet drink are just lemon juice, water, cayenne pepper and maple syrup. Clearly the cayenne present in that drink may contribute to weight loss
As always, you should consult your doctor before you attempt any kind of cleanse.
And when it comes to losing weight, it is important to change your lifestyle in a way that is more healthy, sustainable and not dependent on a single drink.
For example, you might not want to drink a maple syrup, lemon and cayenne concoction for the rest of your life, but you can make a daily habit of drinking a cup of hot water with lemon and cayenne pepper in the morning before your coffee to kick start your digestion and metabolism.
Now let’s check out some of the nutrients in one tablespoon of cayenne pepper:
- Calcium, 8 mg.Calcium is important for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. This mineral is also important for maintaining hair and nail health in perimenopausal and menopausal women. Adequate calcium intake may also decrease your risk for colorectal cancer.
- Magnesium, 8 mg. This mineral is needed by more than 300 human body enzymes to facilitate biochemical reactions. It helps create energy for the body and activates muscle and nerve tissues by enabling potassium and calcium transfer through your cell membranes. If magnesium levels in the body are too low, whole body systems don’t work properly, resulting in fatigue and cramps.
- Phosphorus, 16 mg. Phosphorus works with calcium to help build strong bones and teeth. It is also needed to help balance and use other vitamins and minerals including vitamin D, iodine, magnesium and zinc.
- Vitamin A, 2205 IU. Vitamin A helps with bone growth and reproductive health. It is mainly known for improving your eyesight, skin health and cell regeneration.
- Lutein + Zeaxanthin, 697 mcg. These are two carotenoids and antioxidants that concentrate in eye tissue. According to the American Optometric Association, “[l]utein and zeaxanthin filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light and help protect and maintain healthy cells in the eyes. Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye.”
If you are going to incorporate cayenne pepper into your diet, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
People who have heartburn or existing ulcers should speak with a doctor first. If you are going to use an ointment or cream with capsaicin, do not use immediately after taking a hot shower.
If you do not like cayenne or spicy food, talk to your doctor about taking cayenne in capsule form. It appears that pregnant and nursing women can consume cayenne, but they should not take it in pill form. And talk to a pediatrician before giving cayenne to young children, especially under the age of 2.
As always, if you have any existing health conditions or are taking any medications (prescription and/or over-the-counter), it is always best to speak with your doctor about incorporating unfamiliar foods into your diet. Certain foods can alter drug-metabolizing systems in the body. You always want to avoid drug interactions so that you will be healthy and your medication will be effective.
Finally, one of my favorite ways to use cayenne pepper is to season chicken. Check out this Jamaican Jerk Seasoning that uses several different spices and herbs that are both spicy and sweet.
- 1 tbsp Garlic powder
- 1 tbsp Onion powder
- 1 tsp Allspice, ground
- 1 tsp Black pepper, ground
- 1 tbsp Brown sugar
- 2 tsp Cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp Cinnamon, ground
- 1/2 tsp Nutmeg, ground
- 2 tsp Paprika, smoked
- 1/2 tsp Red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp Salt (I generally use less salt - ½ tsp)
- 1/2 tsp Cumin, ground
- 1 tbsp Parsley (dried)
Let us know if you try this recipe, and feel free to share the ways you like to use cayenne.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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