Capsicum, or hot red chili peppers, have come into their own recently, both as a culinary spice and as a hot new medical remedy. Long used as a food spice and an aid to digestion, red chilis or cayenne peppers were once thought to aggravate stomach ulcers. This fear has been discounted by researchers who became excited by studies that indicated that capsicum could help prevent the formation of dangerous blood clots. Now new research is focusing on this spices ability to act as an anti-inflammatory agent and aid in controlling pain.
Researchers in Thailand first noticed that people who consume large amounts of red chili peppers experienced a lower incidence of thromboembolism, or potentially dangerous blood clots. Scientists then looked at the medical records of countries where hot spicy foods where regularly consumed and found that people who eat a diet high in red peppers experience a much lower incidence of blood clotting disease. Scientists have now concluded that capsicum does indeed possess fibrinolytic activity, meaning that it is able to break down blood clots.
In addition to preventing the formation of blood clots, researchers have also discovered that a topically applied cream containing capsicum could help control some types of chronic skin pains. Now available in the form of a prescription drug called Zostrix, capsicum ointment is applied to the skin to aid in controlling the pain associated with herpes zoster, also known as shingles, as well as neuralgia and postoperative amputation trauma.
The active ingredient in capsicum is a compound called capsaicin that functions to deplete substance P, which is involved in the transmission of pain from the skin to the spinal cord. By blocking substance P, capsaicin acts as a dramatic and long-lasting anesthetic bringing relief to almost 75 percent of patients tested with the cream. It can take as long as three days from first application to begin to deplete substance P from the peripheral nerves.
Taken internally to aid digestion, red peppers should be consumed slowly to avoid distress. Capsicum and cayenne can also be taken in capsules. Be careful to avoid getting capsicum products in the eyes, as this can be extremely painful.