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Medical Uses for Cayenne Pepper

By Nicki Wolf

The cayenne pepper is an eye-watering option for hot pepper lovers. While not at the top of the Scoville Unit scale, which is the measure of heat in a pepper, cayenne is definitely hot, coming in at 30,000 to 50,000 units. Cayenne peppers commonly find use for culinary purposes -- whether as fresh peppers or in dried and powdered forms -- but they also have a variety of medicinal uses. Consult your physician before using cayenne peppers to treat any health problem.

Pain Relief

The compound in cayenne peppers that makes them hot is called capsaicin. This chemical gives cayenne peppers pain-relieving capabilities; when consumed, capsaicin interrupts the transmission of pain messaging to the brain. The injury may still hurt, but the body does not recognize or acknowledge the pain. Capsaicin from cayenne peppers is added to creams and gels that, when applied to the skin, effect pain relief. A study published in the February 2011 issue of “Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine” notes that patches applied to the skin that contain capsaicin and other compounds deliver effective pain relief. Some medications meant for pain relief may cause skin irritation, so look for patches with a high dose of capsaicin, for less risk of dermatological problems.

Metabolism Booster

Including cayenne peppers in your diet may help you lose weight by boosting your metabolism. The University of Maryland Medical Center points to human and animal studies that indicate the capsaicin in these peppers influences the amount of heat the body puts off. Evidence in the March 2011 issue of the “Journal of Medicinal Food” correlates capsaicin supplementation with a decrease in metabolic problems related to obesity in rats. More research is needed to confirm if this finding is true for humans.

Prostate Cancer Fighter

Cayenne peppers may offer particular benefits for men -- the capsaicin in these peppers shows a positive effect on prostate cancer. Researchers from California and Tokyo offered evidence in the March 2006 edition of the journal “Cancer Research” that capsaicin causes apoptosis, or cell death, in several prostate cancer cell lines. They theorized that the capsaicin in cayenne peppers may find use in the prevention or treatment of prostate cancer.

Antibacterial Agent

When you’re injured, cayenne peppers may help prevent an infection, thanks to their antibacterial properties. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations notes that cayenne peppers fight infection and inflammation. Additionally, the University of Maryland Medical Center reports that the capsaicin in cayenne peppers may offer an effective treatment for ear infections.

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