That exhilarating (or excruciating) hot sensation you get when eating chili peppers? That's due to their capsaicin content — and it's definitely a "healthy burn."
Chilies are a popular addition to Mexican, Indian, and other international cuisines. The most common reason they're added to foods is the sensation of heat they impart.
This sensation is due to irritation of the tongue and lining of the mouth, which can range from a pleasant feeling of warmth to extreme pain, as anyone who has doused their food with an unknown hot sauce can attest.
Peppers come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and heat levels — from the innocuous bell pepper to the notorious jalapeño. The jalapeño, while indeed hot, is not the world's hottest chili. According to the Guinness World Records book, that title has been bestowed on a chili known as the Carolina Reaper.
Chili peppers are high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, and fiber; however, their most notable active ingredient is capsaicin, the healthy compound that's responsible for their heat.
Capsaicin Has Anti-Cancer Properties
Capsaicin has been the subject of many scientific inquiries over the past decade or so, and for good reason. Scientists reported an anti-cancer effect from capsaicin in cultured human pancreatic carcinoma cells.1
In mice that received implanted human prostate cancer tumors, capsaicin resulted in a decrease in the tumor size and weight.2
Capsaicin Aids Weight Loss
Chilies ability to aid in weight loss has been the focus of recent research.
An article published in 2010 revealed an 8% decrease in body weight among rats on a high-fat diet given capsaicin.3 In the study, capsaicin increased the breakdown of fat and increased metabolism.
Capsaicin Alleviates Pain
Capsaicin is also showing promise as a topical agent for arthritis or other pain. Applied directly to the skin, the compound has the ability to be absorbed for rapid relief.
A study published in 2013 showed that capsaicin improved sleep, fatigue, depression, and quality of life in people with post-herpetic neuralgia or HIV-neuropathy.4
A Word of Caution!
Be careful not to use capsaicin around your eyes or to touch your eyes after applying! Capsaicin and chili peppers can be an extreme irritant.
- Apoptosis. 2008 Dec;13(12):1465-78.
- Cancer Res. 2006 Mar 15;66(6):3222-9.
- J Proteome Res. 2010 Jun 4;9(6):2977-87.
- Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Feb 28;2:CD007393.