Health benefits of hot peppers list


13 Surprising Health Benefits of Chili Pepper You Absolutely Need to Know

Health benefits of Chili pepper includes improves digestive health and metabolism, alleviates migraines, may reduce risks of cancer, fights fungal infections, colds, and the flu, provides joint pain relief, fights inflammation, supports cardiovascular health, may improve cognitive functions, may improve longevity, promotes red blood cell growth, improve ocular health and keeps your hair and skin healthy and more.

Chili peppers are popular for their ability to improve the taste of any meal with their hot flavor. However, chili peppers are more than just a little bit of heat. Chili peppers are mainly used as a spice and this can be cooked or powdered and dried.

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The most valuable characteristic of chili peppers is the compound capsaicin. Capsaicin is the primary compound in chili peppers that gives the peppers their distinct taste and a number of health benefits. Today, we will explore 13 of those amazing health benefits of chili peppers.

13 Amazing Health Benefits of Chili Pepper

1. Improves Digestive Health and Metabolism

One of the biggest advantages of capsaicin is its contribution to gut health and weight loss. Contrary to popular belief, chili peppers can actually be an anti-irritant to your stomach and a great way to treat stomach ulcers.

Secondly, chili peppers, especially in its powder form, is rich in antioxidants and other compounds that can soothe other digestive issues, like upset stomachs, intestinal gas, diarrhea, and cramps. Peppers are able to accomplish this because they stimulate gastric juices and work against the acidity in your digestive tract.

Thirdly, chili peppers can accelerate your metabolism. By speeding up your metabolism, you curb your cravings and improve the rate at which you burn fat. In general, it is thought that the consumption of chili peppers along with other healthy lifestyle practices can improve weight loss.

2. Alleviates Migraines

Capsaicin from chili peppers has also shown potential in treating headaches and migraines. According to a study by the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, 18 patients with headache diagnoses were treated with an intranasal capsaicin.

As a result, 13 patients had full relief. Majority of the other patients experienced some relief, and only one patient had no relief. The researchers found that the capsaicin desensitizes the trigeminal nerve and decreases the CGRP–both of which are responsible for creating migraine pain.

3. May Reduce Risks of Cancer

Chili peppers also present a potential natural remedy for fighting cancer. According to the American Association for Cancer Research, the capsaicin and antioxidants in chili peppers can kill cancer cells in leukemia and prostate cancer. This is largely due to the high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of chili peppers.

For example, in the case of prostate cancer, capsaicin reduces the growth of prostate cancer cells by triggering a depletion of the primary types of cancer cell lines. Similar effects can be found in breast, pancreatic and bladder cancer.

4. Fights Fungal Infections, Colds, and the Flu

The characteristic red color of chili peppers is an indication that it is rich in beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A. Vitamin A is key in maintaining a healthy respiratory, intestinal, and urinary system. Also, vitamin A and vitamin C in the chili peppers are vital in building up your immunity against infections and illnesses.

If you suffer from congestion or allergies, a capsaicin nasal spray can help relieve your symptoms. Moreover, capsaicin has a number of antibacterial properties that can fight chronic sinus infections.

If you are suffering from a high fever, hot chili peppers can not only relieve the pain, but they can also stimulate the immune system to fight off the virus.

Chili peppers can also be used for their anti-fungal properties. Specifically, it can kill food pathogens, bacteria like H. pylori and cure a number of inflammatory bowel diseases.

5. Provides Joint Pain Relief

In addition to being a natural source of pain relief for headaches and migraines, chili peppers can be used to reduce joint pain. Essentially, you can apply the chili pepper to the skin to reduce the presence of chemical P. Chemical P is the compound responsible for transmitting pain messages to the brain.

Capsaicin binds with pain receptors and induces a burning sensation that may desensitize your pain receptors over time. In this way, capsaicin acts as a pain reliever. Typically, it can be used to treat shingles, joint pain, and HIV neuropathy.

6. Fights Inflammation

Another one of capsaicin’s valuable characteristics is that it inhibits substance P, which is a neuropeptide that is responsible for inflammatory processes. As such, capsaicin is thought to be a potential treatment for a number of sensory nerve disorders, such as arthritis pain, diabetic neuropathy, and psoriasis.

An animal study found that animals who were treated with a substance that caused inflammatory arthritis responded well to a diet high in capsaicin. Thanks to the diet, the animals experienced a delayed development of arthritis and a significant decrease in inflammation throughout their bodies.

7. Supports Cardiovascular Health

Chili peppers can also be a great, natural way to support your cardiovascular system and prevent heart disease. Chili peppers are high in potassium, which is a mineral with a number of functions in the human body.

Potassium combined with folate can reduce your chances of developing heart disease. Moreover, potassium can help relax your blood vessels, which makes blood flow much easier on your body.

Chili peppers also contain riboflavin and niacin. The latter is responsible for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and in turn, lower the risk for heart disease. Chili peppers can also protect fats in your blood against free radicals.

For example, one study found that eating fresh chili increased the resistance of blood fats to oxidation, which is free radical damage to your triglycerides and cholesterol levels.

8. Decrease Risks of Type 2 Diabetes

In addition to maintaining your heart health, chili peppers can reduce the risk of developing high blood levels of insulin, which is a common symptom of Type 2 Diabetes.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a number of Australian scientists discovered that a meal containing chili pepper can result in the right amount of insulin to reduce blood sugar levels.

This is a particularly useful fact for individuals with high BMIs or those who suffer from obesity. Lastly, remember that chili peppers are high in antioxidants, cartenoids, and vitamin C. These contribute greatly to insulin regulation as well.

9. May Improve Cognitive Functions

One of the key ways of maintaining a strong cognitive performance is a proper amount of oxygen and iron. Fortunately, chili peppers are rich in iron. This leads to an increase in the blood flow and hemoglobin production in your brain.

In turn, chili peppers can help improve your cognitive performance. Additionally, they can also decrease your chances of developing cognitive disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

10. May Improve Longevity

A study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences discovered that people who consume spicy food have a better chance of having a longer life. In other words, common spices have the potential to increase a person’s chance to live a longer, healthy life.

Over the course of seven years, the researchers found that individuals who ate spicy foods three to seven times a week has a smaller chance of experiencing cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses.

This can be credited to capsaicin’s ability to reduce inflammation, clear the respiratory tract, and overall reduce the development of lifelong diseases.

11. Promotes Red Blood Cell Growth

In addition to maintaining heart health, chili peppers can also help with new blood cell formation. This is due to the fact that chili peppers are rich in copper and iron. As such, they are able to treat symptoms of anemia and fatigue.

Additionally, chili peppers also contain folic acid, which is key to fighting anemia and producing healthy red blood cells. This is particularly valuable for pregnant women because a deficiency in folic acid could mean birth defects in newborn babies.

12. Improve Ocular Health

Like we mentioned before, the vitamin A in chili peppers is important to building a strong immune system. However, it is also important in keeping your eyesight healthy and strong.

It is known for preventing night blindness and ocular degeneration. One tablespoon of chili pepper in your diet contains 9% of your daily recommended need of vitamin A.

13. Keeps Your Hair and Skin Healthy

The vitamin C in chili peppers does not just strengthen your immune system. It also creates and maintains collagen, which is a key protein found in healthy hair and skin. Specifically, cayenne pepper is a great natural ingredient that can add some spice to a beauty routine.

Cayenne pepper can be mixed into a face mask to deal with skin inflammation. It can also treat wrinkles, acne scars, and dark spots. Cayenne pepper is able to do this because it essentially stimulates blood flow which leads to flawless skin.

Mixed with olive oil, cayenne pepper can also make a great hair mask to bring some luster and shine to your hair.


All that being said, the next time you put together a meal, consider adding a dash of spice. As you can see, with chili peppers, a little can go a long way. So, a slight burn on your tongue or a teary eye might be worth its amazing health benefits.

If you are looking for a natural way to deal with some of your health issues, chili peppers are the way to go. We hope this was helpful to you. Let us know if you have questions.

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A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no ‘Planet B’ in this whole universe.

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Some Like It Hot

Peppers are full of flavor & health benefits including as an aid in weight loss.

By Jodi Helmer | Edited by Amy Edel-Vaughn

Fiery. Spicy. Hot. Pungent. Mild. There are countless ways to describe the flavors of hot peppers and countless ways to incorporate them into your diet. Whether you chop them for salsa, stuff them or pickle them, there are significant health benefits to eating hot peppers.

In addition to being chock-full of vitamin D, vitamin C, potassium, fiber and beta-carotene, research has linked eating hot peppers with reduced blood pressure and cholesterol. Chiles contain red and orange pigments called carotenoids that are believed to protect against cancer.

Eating hot peppers might also help to reduce pain, according to Beth Warren, MS, RDN, CDN, founder and CEO of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living Real Life with Real Food (Skyhorse).

“You release endorphins to block the pain from the heat, which is why they are used to help treat all kinds of arthritis pain, as well as for neuropathic pain and dermatologic conditions that have a painful itch,” Warren explains.

What’s more, hot pepper consumption has been found to decrease appetite and increase metabolism. This has led to interest in employing these taste bud sizzlers as a possible path to weight loss.

Metabolic Step-Up

Hot peppers contain capsaicin, a compound that gives chiles their heat. While hot peppers aren’t a magic bullet for weight loss, capsaicin has been shown to boost metabolism while helping the body burn fat.

In 2015, researchers at the University of Wyoming presented study results at a meeting of the Biophysical Society. The study team had found that adding capsaicin to the diets of mice prevented weight gain and stimulated the production of brown fat, a type of fat that burns calories (technically known as thermogenesis). The group reported that “dietary capsaicin suppresses high-fat-diet-induced obesity.”

These results appear to support the findings of an earlier study conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2010. In a paper presented to that year’s Experimental Biology meeting, the UCLA team reported that adding hot peppers to a meal helped burn more calories.

Some experts, though, believe you shouldn’t make hot pepper consumption your only line of defense against excess weight. “These effects are likely minimal,” says Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RDN, assistant professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Capsaicin’s Other Benefits

Besides encouraging fat burning and increased metabolism, there are other reasons to consume hot peppers and the capsaicin they contain.

In animal research, capsaicin has been shown to improve digestion. One study reported that capsaicin inhibited acid secretion and stimulated mucus in the gastric tract, helping to prevent and heal ulcers—and forever dispelling the myth that eating hot peppers causes ulcers and stomach upset.

There is even research that eating these fiery foods will help you live longer. In a 2015 BMJ study, Harvard researchers followed more than 20,000 people for seven years and found that those who ate spicy foods like fresh and dried chile peppers at least six times per week had a 14% lower risk of death from all causes than those who incorporated spicy foods into their diets less than once a week.

People who are taking prescription medication for cardiovascular problems may want to take heed when it comes to chile consumption, however. “Capsaicin is a blood thinner, so if someone is on blood thinning medication such as warfarin, they need to be careful,” Warren advises.

Heating Up the Kitchen

Of course, what makes the health benefits of chiles easy to swallow is the fact that they taste great. “Hot peppers are a nutrient-dense way to add flavor to dishes without packing on extra calories,” notes Pritchett.

Hot peppers are also versatile in the kitchen because different varieties offer different flavor profiles and heat levels. Examples include:

Ghost: Also known as Bhut Jolokia, this super-hot pepper was listed in the Guinness World Records from 2007 to 2011 as the hottest pepper in the world. The pepper, which ranges from green to orange and red, originated in India. It’s often used in fiery hot sauces and chili powder. Because of its extreme heat, eating it raw is not recommended.

Pueblo: These mild peppers originated in New Mexico. The pods grow in a pendant shape and come in green and red. Pueblo peppers are often used in fresh salsas and sauces, and are also available powdered, roasted or processed.

Serrano: A Spanish word that means “from the mountains,” these hot peppers were once grown in the mountains of Mexico. Serranos are pendant-shaped and come in green and red. These are the peppers found in “hot” salsa and other fiery Mexican cuisine.

Jalapeño: One of the more common peppers, jalapeños come from Veracruz, Mexico. These medium-heat peppers are used fresh, pickled or processed.

Habanero: These put the “hot” in hot pepper and are about 50 times hotter than jalapeños. The name, which means “from Havana,” hints at their Cuban heritage. Habaneros are popular in chili powder, hot sauces and rubbed seasonings.

Pepper heat has its own index. Called Scoville units after American chemist William Scoville, who devised the system in 1912, this measurement provides a way of judging how hot a pepper is based on its capsaicin content. Sweet bell peppers, which have no capsaicin, rate a 0. Jalapeños come in at 3,500 to 8,000 Scovilles, which sounds hot enough until one learns that ghost peppers rate a tongue-incinerating 1 million Scoville units.

If you have a favorite pepper, don’t be afraid to mix it up and try something new. “People tend to seek out the heat level that makes them the happiest and don’t experiment with other varieties,” says Dave DeWitt, food historian and co-author of The Field Guide to Peppers (Timber).

Also experiment with different ways to use chiles. If you only think of them as a salsa ingredient, for example, feel free to add them to one-skillet dishes or soups.

As long as you don’t overdo it, hot peppers make a great addition to a healthy diet. “The one thing I hear a lot is, ‘I didn’t know how delicious hot peppers could be,’” says DeWitt. “The more press hot peppers get, the more people’s initial reluctance to trying them diminishes.

You’ll quickly realize that they add an element to a dish that no other food can.”

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Weight Loss and Many Health Benefits of Hot Peppers

Some people crave the addicting kick of spicy foods, while others avoid spice like they avoid touching hot stoves. But whichever camp you belong to, you can’t ignore the fact that hot peppers have been in the spotlight recently for their health benefits.

A 2017 study by researchers at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine found “the consumption of hot red chili peppers is associated with a 13% reduction in total mortality, primarily in deaths due to heart disease or stroke.” That’s the kind of research that’ll make you stand up and pay attention … and then head to your nearest farmers market for some peppers.

“The consumption of hot red chili peppers is associated with a 13% reduction in total mortality, primarily in deaths due to heart disease or stroke.”

The humble pepper comes in many varieties, from tried-and-true options like jalapeños and habañeros to less common — and incredibly, painfully spicy — ghost peppers and Carolina reapers. They can be eaten raw, used in cooking and sometimes even sprinkled into a condiment or sauce.

So, with all those options, where do you start?

Great question. To find the answers, and learn more about the relationship between health and heat, we spoke with Louise Chen, a Dallas-based registered dietitian.


“Capsaicin is the active ingredient/phytochemical present in chili peppers,” says Chen. She notes that capsaicin contains many beneficial micronutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium. “There’s ongoing research relating to capsaicin’s role in reducing the risk of colorectal and prostate cancer — and it may have neuroprotective effects for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” she adds. So far, that’s a pretty compelling reason to chop up some jalapeños on your next taco night.

In addition to the above, she mentions capsaicin is used in topical ointments to help alleviate arthritis and nerve pain and may boost metabolism, leading to weight loss. But she’s quick to point out that evidence is hazy on the latter, and the issue needs more research for a definitive assessment.


Are all peppers created equal? Well, flavor is personal, but they’re certainly not equal in terms of hotness. The actual heat level is ranked by Scoville Heat Units, and the higher the Scovilles, the hotter the pepper.

“There’s not really a best pepper, it just depends on what you are looking for and can tolerate,” says Chen. To avoid any mouth-searing discomfort that’ll have you reaching for your nearest glass of water (which, by the way, makes it worse) — or dipping your head in a tub of ice cream — start small. While capsaicin is available in supplement form, Chen advises getting those nutritional benefits straight from the natural source, rather than from pills.


If you’ve got an iron stomach, hot peppers are a great way to add healthy flavor to your food. But if you’ve got a sensitive stomach, well, it’s a different story. Chen notes that peppers can cause irritation to the mouth and GI tract if eaten in excess (or if you’re eating a particularly hot variety) and those with a history of heartburn or stomach ulcers should proceed with caution.

Of course, that’s once the peppers are actually in your body. Before that, you’ve got to wash and prep them, which means you’ll be using your hands, and that can also cause issues. Chen notes that capsaicin is located in the ribs and seeds of a chili pepper, so when cutting them, be careful not to touch your face or eyes.

“There’s a good reason why capsaicin is used as an active ingredient in pepper spray,” she says.

US Pharm. 2009;34(7):HS-17-HS-18.

Capsaicin is a chemical compound that was first isolated from chili peppers in crystalline form in 1878. Soon after, it was discovered that capsaicin caused a burning sensation in the mucous membranes. In addition, it increased secretion of gastric acid and stimulated the nerve endings in the skin. The chemical structure of capsaicin was partly elucidated in 1919, and in 1930 capsaicin was chemically synthesized. In 1961, substances similar to capsaicin were isolated from chili peppers by Japanese chemists, who named them capsaicinoids. Dihydrocapsaicin (22%), nordihydrocapsaicin (7%), and homocapsaicin (1%) comprise 30% of the total capsaicinoids mixture and have about half the pungency of capsaicin.1

Pepper spray, also known as capsicum spray, is a lachrymatory agent (a chemical compound that irritates the eyes to cause tears, pain, and even temporary blindness) used in crowd control and personal self-defense, including defense against dogs and bears. The active ingredient in pepper spray is oleoresin capsicum (OC) from chili peppers that is extracted in an organic solvent such as ethanol. The solvent is then evaporated, and the waxlike resin is emulsified with propylene glycol to suspend the OC in water. The OC is then pressurized for use in pepper spray.2

Capsaicin is currently used in topical form for postherpetic neuralgia. This medication is also used on the skin to relieve pain in conditions such as arthritis, psoriasis, or diabetic neuropathy. New studies from the American Association for Cancer Research suggest that capsaicin is also able to kill prostate cancer cells by causing them to undergo apoptosis.2

The Scoville Scale

Capsaicin is a remarkable health-promoting substance. But since burning and irritation are common side effects, it may be wise to start using it slowly and build up a tolerance for larger quantities. The Scoville Scale is a tool for measuring the hotness of a chili pepper, as defined by the amount of capsaicin it contains, and is named after its creator, W. Scoville. This tool is also known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test. An alternative method for quantitative analysis uses high-performance liquid chromatography, making it possible to directly measure capsaicinoid content. Some hot sauces use their Scoville rating in advertising as a selling point.2

Current Medical Applications

FDA-labeled indications for capsaicin are arthritis and musculoskeletal pain, and FDA-nonlabeled indications are neuropathy postoperative complications, postherpetic neuralgia, postoperative nausea and vomiting (prophylaxis), and psoriasis.

Capsaicin is currently used in topical ointments to relieve the pain of peripheral postherpetic neuralgia caused by shingles. It may be used in concentrations of between 0.025% and 0.075%. Capsaicin may also be used as a cream for the temporary relief of minor aches and joint pain associated with arthritis, simple backache, strains, and sprains. The treatment typically involves the application of a topical anesthetic until the area is numb. Then, the capsaicin is applied by a therapist wearing rubber gloves and a face mask. The capsaicin remains on the skin until the patient starts to feel the “heat,” at which point it is promptly removed. Capsaicin is also available in large bandages that can be applied to the back.2

Mechanism of Action

The exact mechanism of action of topical capsaicin has not been fully elucidated. Capsaicin is a neuropeptide-active agent that affects the synthesis, storage, transport, and release of substance P, which is believed to be the principal chemical mediator of pain impulses from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system. In addition, substance P has been shown to be released into joint tissues, where it activates inflammatory intermediates that are involved with the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Capsaicin renders skin and joints insensitive to pain by depleting and preventing reaccumulation of substance P in peripheral sensory neurons. With the depletion of substance P in the nerve endings, local pain impulses cannot be transmitted to the brain.

Capsaicin selectively binds to a protein known as TRPV1, which resides on the membranes of pain- and heat-sensing neurons. TRPV1 is a heat-activated calcium channel, with a threshold to open between 37°C and 45°C (37°C is normal body temperature). When capsaicin binds to TRPV1, it causes the channel to lower its opening threshold, thereby opening it at temperatures less than the body’s temperature, which is why capsaicin is linked to the sensation of heat. As mentioned earlier, prolonged activation of these neurons by capsaicin depletes presynaptic substance P, one of the body’s neurotransmitters for pain and heat, and prevents reaccumulation. Neurons that do not contain TRPV1 are unaffected; this causes extended numbness following surgery, and the patient does not feel pain as the capsaicin is applied under anesthesia.

With chronic exposure to capsaicin, neurons are depleted of neurotransmitters, and this leads to a reduction in sensation of pain and a blockage of neurogenic inflammation. If capsaicin is removed, the neurons recover.3

Adlea, which is in phase III trials, is a TRPV1 agonist based on capsaicin. Administered locally to the site of pain, Adlea has been shown to provide site-specific pain relief by binding to TRPV1 receptors, which are found predominantly on C-fiber neurons.

Long-lasting pain is transmitted in the body by C-fiber neurons and is associated with longer term, dull, aching, throbbing pain. In contrast, A-fiber neurons transmit immediate pain such as that experienced milliseconds after slamming your finger in a door or touching a hot surface. Because Adlea acts primarily on C-fiber neurons, it has not been shown to have an adverse effect on normal sensations such as temperature or touch.

Capsaicin and Prostate Cancer

It has been reported that capsaicin down-regulates the expression of not only prostate-specific antigen (PSA), but also androgenic receptors, the steroid-activated proteins that control expression of specific growth-related genes.

The American Association for Cancer Research reports that capsaicin is able to kill prostate cancer cells by causing them to undergo apoptosis. Capsaicin inhibited the activity of NF-kappa beta, a molecular mechanism that participates in the pathways leading to apoptosis in many cell types. Capsaicin also affected the tumors formed by human prostate cancer cell cultures grown in mouse models; results showed that treated tumors were about one-fifth the size of untreated tumors.4

Promoter assays also showed that capsaicin inhibited the ability of dihydrotestosterone to activate the PSA enhancer, even in the presence of exogenous androgenic receptors (ARs) in LNCaP cells. This suggests that capsaicin inhibited the transcription of PSA not only via down-regulation of AR expression, but also by a direct inhibitory effect.

Although capsaicin reduced the amount of AR that the tumor cells produced, it did not interfere with normal movement of AR into the nucleus of the cancer cells, where the steroid receptor acts to regulate androgen target genes.5

Risks and Precautions

While capsaicin is reported to have benefits in increasing metabolism by burning fats, relieving topical pain, and reducing insulin spikes in diabetes, it can cause burning or stinging pain to the skin and, if ingested in large amounts by adults or small amounts by children, can produce nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and burning diarrhea. Eye exposure produces intense tearing, pain, conjunctivitis, and blepharospasm.

The primary treatment is removal from exposure. Contaminated clothing should be removed and placed in airtight bags. Capsaicin could be washed off the skin using soap or other detergents or rubbed off with oily compounds such as vegetable oil, petroleum jelly, or polyethylene glycol. Plain water, vinegar, and topical antacid suspensions are ineffective in removing capsaicin.

Burning and pain can be relieved by cooling from ice, cold water, cold surfaces, or air from wind or a fan. In severe cases, eye burn might be treated with topical ophthalmic anesthetics. Mucous membrane burn might be treated with lidocaine gel, and capsaicin-induced asthma might be treated with nebulized bronchodilators, oral antihistamines, or corticosteroids.6

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Why hot chillies might be good for us

Image copyright Getty Images

As anyone who has ever eaten a really hot chilli will testify, they can cause a lot of pain.

Chillies come in many shapes, colours, sizes and strengths, but one thing they have in common is the burning sensation they cause in your mouth, eyes and any other part of your body into which their juices come into contact.

Although most people think that the hottest part of a chilli is its seeds, in fact it is the white spongy layer you find inside, called the placenta. Bite into this and you will really feel the burn.

That burning sensation is mainly caused by a chemical called capsaicin, which is found in tiny glands in the chilli’s placenta.

When you eat a chilli, the capsaicin is released into your saliva and then binds on to TRPV1 receptors in your mouth and tongue.

The receptors are actually there to detect the sensation of scalding heat.

Capsaicin makes your mouth feel as if it is on fire because the capsaicin molecule happens to fit the receptors perfectly.

When this happens it triggers these receptors, which send a signal to your brain, fooling it into thinking that your mouth is literally burning.

Is the chilli pepper friend or foe?

Can you hurt yourself eating chilli peppers?

The reason why wild chilli plants first started to produce capsaicin was to try and protect themselves from being eaten by mammals like you.

From an evolutionary perspective the plant would much rather have its seeds dispersed far and wide by birds.

Oddly enough birds, unlike mammals, don’t have TRPV1 receptors, so they do not experience any burn.

Humans messed things up

So producing capsaicin turned out to be the ideal way to deter mammals from eating the plant while encouraging birds to do so.

But then along came an ape with a giant frontal cortex who somehow learnt to love the burn.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Humans have learned to love the burn of chillies

Humans are not only not deterred by capsaicin, most of us positively love it. So what’s going on?

The ferocity of a chilli pepper is measured in something called Scoville heat units (SHU).

A relatively mild chilli, like the Dutch Long chilli, is only 500, but by the time you move on to the Naga chilli, which is one of the hottest in the world, you are biting into something with a Scoville score of more than 1.3m units.

The current world record holder for hotness, however, is the Carolina Reaper, first bred in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

According to tests carried out by the University of Winthrop in South Carolina it scores an impressive 1.57m SHUs

So, what happens when you bite into a really hot chill? As part of the new BBC2 series The Secrets of Your Food, botanist James Wong and I entered a chilli eating competition.

Adrenaline release

Within minutes of eating my first chilli, my eyes began to water and my pulse shot up.

My body had responded to an initial burst of severe pain by releasing adrenaline.

This not only made my heart beat faster, but it also made my pupils dilate. Every round the chillies got hotter and both of us soon dropped out.

Had we been able to tolerate biting into some really hot chillies, it’s possible we would have experienced a “chilli endorphin high”.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Chilli seeds are dispersed by birds that eat them

Endorphins are natural opiates, painkillers which are sometimes released in response to the chilli’s sting. Like opiates they are said to induce a pervasive sense of happiness.

It is a form of thrill-seeking – feeding our brains’ desire for stimulation.

Although it is not something I have personally ever experienced, I have certainly heard it described by hard core chilli eaters..

But beyond the pain and the perverse pleasures, are there any health benefits to eating chillies? Perhaps.

In a recent study done by researchers from the University of Vermont they looked at data from more than 16,000 Americans who had filled in food questionnaires over an average of 18.9 years.

During that time nearly 5,000 of them had died. What they found was that those who ate a lot of red hot chillies were 13% less likely to die during that period than those who did not.

This supports the finding of another recent study, carried out in China, that came to similar conclusions.

So why might eating chillies be good for you?

The researchers speculate that it could be that capsaicin is helping increase blood flow, or even altering the mix of your gut bacteria in a helpful direction.

Whatever the reason, it adds to my pleasure as I sprinkle chilli on my omelette in the morning.

The Secrets of Your Food continues on BBC2 at 2100GMT on Friday 10th March .

Join the conversation on our Facebook page.


Topic Overview

What is capsaicin?

Capsaicin is the ingredient found in different types of hot peppers, such as cayenne peppers, that makes the peppers spicy hot. You can eat it in raw or cooked peppers or as a dried powder, which you can add to food or drinks. It also is available as a dietary supplement, in topical creams that you apply to your skin, or in a prescription skin patch.

What is capsaicin used for?

Capsaicin is used to help relieve pain. Capsaicin works by first stimulating and then decreasing the intensity of pain signals in the body. Although pain may at first increase, it usually decreases after the first use. Capsaicin stimulates the release of a compound believed to be involved in communicating pain between the nerves in the spinal cord and other parts of the body.

Topical use

When you apply capsaicin cream, gel, lotion, or ointment to the skin (topical use), it may help relieve pain from:

  • Pain disorders, including pain after surgery.
  • Nervous system problems such as diabetic neuropathy, trigeminal neuralgia, and postherpetic neuralgia (shingles).
  • Cluster headaches.
  • Joint problems such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Skin conditions such as psoriasis.
  • Mouth sores due to chemotherapy or radiation.

You can put products that contain capsaicin on your skin up to 4 times a day. You may feel a burning or itching sensation the first few times you use capsaicin, but this will gradually decrease with each use. Wash your hands thoroughly after each use to avoid getting capsaicin in your eyes or on other moist mucous membranes, where it can cause a burning sensation. Do not use capsaicin on areas of broken skin.

A high-dose skin patch is available by prescription (Qutenza). The patch is used to treat nerve pain from postherpetic neuralgia. It must be put on and removed by a doctor or nurse. The patch is left on the skin only for an hour or less, but the capsaicin continues to relieve pain after the patch is removed.

Supplement use

When you eat hot peppers or take capsaicin as a dietary supplement, the capsaicin may improve your digestion by increasing the digestive fluids in the stomach and by fighting bacteria that could cause an infection. It may also help fight diarrhea caused by bacterial infection.

Capsaicin acts as an antioxidant, protecting the cells of the body from damage by harmful molecules called free radicals. Capsaicin also may help prevent bacterial infections.

Capsaicin may also make mucus thinner and help move it out of the lungs. It is also thought to strengthen lung tissues and help to prevent or treat emphysema.

Is capsaicin safe?

Experts in the United States generally consider capsaicin to be safe. But it can cause some unpleasant effects, especially for those who are not used to it. Be careful when you cook with or eat hot peppers. Begin with small amounts, and increase the amount as you get used to it.

An allergic reaction to capsaicin is possible. If you are just beginning to use capsaicin, either as fresh or prepared food or in powder form, start with small amounts. If you use a topical product that contains capsaicin, you should first apply it to a small area of skin to test for an allergic reaction.

To reduce the burning sensation, remove the seeds from the peppers before you eat or cook with them. Also, if you eat bananas along with the peppers, you may reduce the burning sensation.

Don’t let capsaicin come into contact with your eyes and other moist mucous membranes. After you touch capsaicin (or hot peppers), use vinegar or soap to wash your hands so you don’t accidentally spread capsaicin to your eyes, nose, or mouth. You can also use disposable gloves to handle hot peppers or to apply topical products that contain capsaicin.

Do not apply topical products that contain capsaicin to areas of broken skin.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicines. A dietary supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works.

Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the following:

  • Like conventional medicines, dietary supplements may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact with prescription and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you might be taking. A side effect or interaction with another medicine or supplement may make other health conditions worse.
  • The way dietary supplements are manufactured may not be standardized. Because of this, how well they work or any side effects they cause may differ among brands or even within different lots of the same brand. The form of supplement that you buy in health food or grocery stores may not be the same as the form used in research.
  • Other than for vitamins and minerals, the long-term effects of most dietary supplements are not known.

Hot Peppers May Help Your Heart

Whether you love hot peppers or can’t take the heat, here’s some interesting intel about the fiery fruit: They may help protect your heart from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

“Overall, diets or eating patterns that are rich in plant-based foods, including the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, have been shown to lower risk of heart disease and high blood pressure,” says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian in preventive cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “I would therefore recommend choosing hot peppers, but there’s no recommended quantity. Choose a variety of different types and colors to maximize intake of phytonutrients.”

The health benefit comes from capsaicin (pronounced kap-SAY-sin), the same compound that makes chile peppers like cayennes, jalapeños, and habaneros so hot. Capsaicin also has a reputation for relieving certain kinds of pain, and is a widely used ingredient in over-the-counter topical creams and ointments for arthritis.

On the heart-health front, previous studies have suggested chiles can help reduce blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the formation of blood clots. Recent research adds more evidence to their positive effects.

In a study published in August 2014 in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that capsaicin lowers blood cholesterol levels and blocks a gene that makes arteries contract, which can lead to dangerous blockages of blood flow. Such blockages can cause heart attacks (when blood can’t reach the heart) or strokes (when blood can’t reach the brain).

RELATED: 10-Step Do-It-Yourself Heart Makeover

For the study, the team of researchers fed hamsters high-cholesterol diets. Then they added foods with capsaicinoids, the broader family of substances of which capsaicin is part, to one group’s diet. They found the spicy addition to the diet went along with lower cholesterol levels, less atherosclerotic plaque, and more-relaxed arteries.

Does this mean you should start scarfing down hot peppers? Hardly. But if you can stand the spiciness, adding these types of peppers to balanced meals might give your heart-health plan a boost.

Share these Spicy Health Benefits


The documented health benefits from hot peppers continues to grow at a break-neck speed, similar to the increasing popularity of consuming hot foods in various forms. The heat and health benefits comes from a chemical called capsaicin.

Historically, spicy additions to food helped prevent spoilage in warm climates before the invention of refrigeration. Capsaicin’s anti-microbial properties inhibit as much as 75% of bacteria growth. People from cultures who lived and survived due to the use of various spices passed down to the next of kin spicy recipes and taste buds desiring extra zing in food.

Adding hot peppers, hot sauces and hot powders to food continues to protect us from food poisoning even though we now refrigerate food. To maximize these health benefits, eating the hottest pepper would magnify these effects.

Below are 10 health benefits of hot peppers.

1. Benefits the Digestive Tract

This may sound counter-intuitive, but the capsaicin in peppers actually act as an anti-irritant. People with ulcers have been told for years to avoid hot spicy foods, but research has revealed that peppers are beneficial to ulcers.

For example, pepper powder provides trace amounts of anti-oxidants and other chemicals to aid digestive issues such as, healing an upset stomach, reducing intestinal gas, curing diarrhea and acting as a natural remedy for cramps.

It does this by reducing the acidity in the digestive tract that causes ulcers. It also helps produce saliva and stimulates gastric juices aiding digestion.

2. Promotes a Healthy Heart

It also aids the circulatory system and prevents heart disease by lowering blood serum cholesterol and reduces lipid deposits, and therefore, reverses excessive blood clotting. It also dilates the blood vessels to aid in blood flow.

3. Mitigates Migraines

Have you ever had a pain on a body part that was your sole focus until you had another pain that was even worse? The original pain simply disappeared when your brain focused on the new injury.

This phenomenon is what happens to a migraine when you consume hot peppers. Your body becomes desensitized to the migraine and the overall sensation of pain is lessened.

4. Relieves Joint Pain

Due to the powerful pain-relieving properties of the capsaicin from peppers, it can be applied to the skin to reduce the chemical P, the ingredient that carries pain messages to the brain.

Ultimately, the pain receptors exhaust themselves by depleting the body’s reserves. Once this happens, the capsaicin acts as a pain reliever. It is used effectively for shingles, HIV neuropathy and other types of pain.

5. Improves Metabolism / Promotes Weight Loss

Spicy peppers revs up the metabolic rate by generating the thermogenic processes in our body that generates heat.

That process utilizes energy, and thereby, burns additional calores. In addition, if hot peppers are consumed at breakfast, the appetite is suppressed the rest of the day which ultimately helps in weight loss.

It may even alter proteins in your body to combat fat accumulation.

Capsaicin also has been studied as a holistic method to for weight loss. It will selectively destroy nerve fibers that send messages from the stomach to the brain.

6. Quells Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an itchy skin condition resulting in ugly skin patches. Capsaicin cream will significantly reduce the number of cells to replicating and aids in the reversal of the auto-immune skin lesions.

7. Reduces Cancer Risk

Since tne capsaicin in pepper flesh has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it is being studied as a cancer-fighter. It reduces the growth of prostate cancer cells, while leaving normal cells unharmed.

Research also shows consumption of large quantities of peppers effective against breast, pancreatic and bladder cancers. (8 large habaneros per week)

8. Fights the Flu, Colds and Fungal Infections

Hot peppers are chalked full of beta carotene and antioxidants that support your immune system and will aid in fighting off colds and the flu.

Research has found that nasal sprays containing capsaicin reduce congestion. Increased body temperature from the ingestion of hot peppers triggers the immune system into action in fighting the norovirus (cold), flu viruses.

Consumption of peppers fights against 16 fungal strains by reducing fungal pathogens.

9. Prevents Bad Breath

To keep your significant other attracted to you, eating hot pepper powder acts as a disinfectant to the air you breathe out by improving the odor of your breath.

10. Prevents Allergies

Due to the anti-inflammatory benefits of capsaicin, hot peppers can help prevent allergies and symptoms from allergies.

Learn something? Share these Hot Pepper Health Benefits


Zhang, W., & Po, L. (1994, March 22). The effectiveness of topically applied capsaicin. Retrieved September 17, 2015, from

  • This Is What Eating the Hottest Pepper on Earth Will Do to Your Body

    The Carolina Reaper is the hottest chili pepper on earth. It was bred by a man in South Carolina by crossing a ghost chili—the second hottest pepper in the world—with a habañero. It has a Scoville heat unit (the metric used to measure spice) of 1.6 million. For comparison, a jalapeño has a Scoville rating of 5,000, a habañero has one of 200,000, and the ghost chili comes in at 1 million.

    There are far too many YouTube videos of people eating Carolina Reapers with disturbing results: Their faces redden and contort in agony, they start to swear, cough, and cry, and they often end up running or slinking away to throw up or lie down. In one particularly intense video, two girls shriek, spit, and jump up and down in pain. One girl croaks, “I can’t feel my tongue.” The other begins to cry, mascara streaming down her cheeks. The first girl throws up off-camera; the second has to be put on oxygen because of an asthma attack.

    While these reactions are scary, they’re not life-threatening. However, a few rare cases have resulted in more serious consequences. In Turkey, two men had heart attacks after taking cayenne pepper pills for weight loss. More recently, a 34-year-old man in New York developed “thunderclap headaches” after eating a Carolina Reaper at a chili pepper competition. Doctors discovered that these severe sudden-onset headaches, which often predict a hemorrhage or a stroke, were caused by the constriction of several arteries in his brain, which they attributed to the chili pepper.

    What the hell is happening to these people? And is there a real danger in eating extremely spicy food? “When you experience a hot chili pepper, it’s not a taste response, it’s a pain response,” says David Julius, a professor of physiology at UC San Francisco. The active chemical in chili peppers that gives them their fire is capsaicin. Capsaicin binds to heat receptors located on pain nerve fibers throughout your body, tricking your brain into thinking parts of your body are literally burning.

    More from Tonic:

    When you pop a pepper in your mouth and start to chew, these heat-pain receptors on your lips, mouth, and tongue are activated. The nerve fibers release chemicals that increase blood flow and cause inflammation, which is why your lips swell up. Your mucus membranes go into overdrive in an attempt to flush out the offending substance, causing your mouth and eyes to water and your nose to run—although you could also be crying from the pain. After you swallow, your throat begins to burn and you might start coughing or gagging.

    These reflexes are a defensive response, says experimental psychologist John Prescott, author of Taste Matters: Why We Like the Foods We Do, as well as more than 80 journal articles on the science of taste and flavor perception. Prescott says that, “It’s the body basically saying, get this stuff out of me.” At this point, if you’ve eaten a hot pepper, you’re probably feeling pretty hot as the activation of the heat receptors makes your brain think the temperature is rising. In response to the heat, your body tries to cool itself off by sweating. Blood vessels on the surface of your skin dilate in an attempt to push the heat out, making your face and chest appear flushed.

    “The body temperature will drop quite markedly,” when you activate the nerve fibers, Julius says. “The brain gets a signal that it’s hot outside, these sympathetic reflexes get elicited by that input to the brain to initiate cooling responses.”

    As the pepper moves through your stomach and intestines, the pain and inflammation follow it. You might feel like you’re going to vomit. Mucus production in your gut ramps up in a final attempt to purge the offending substance out the other end as fast as possible, ultimately resulting in diarrhea. Unfortunately, pain fibers are even “present in other places that we don’t talk about politely,” Prescott says, “you know, the day after the chili hits.”

    So what about the extreme, life-threatening reactions? Meredith Barad, a neurologist at Stanford who specializes in headaches, says that a reaction like the New York man’s is not common. “This is a case report, it’s a one-off. I’m not sure this is generalizable to anyone else besides this one unique person,” she says. Barad says the study is “mildly interesting” but isn’t something doctors or scientists are getting worked up about.

    In fact, many of the same effects that are damaging at high doses are actually beneficial in low doses. Eating chili peppers, for instance, has been linked to a lower risk for mortality, possibly by improving blood flow. What’s more, research in mice suggests that capsaicin could help prevent cancer or shrink tumors in the gut. Hot peppers could also be a potential weight loss aid as your body’s efforts to cool you down burns extra calories. Capsaicin also appears to act as an appetite suppressant, perhaps because of some of the not-so-pleasant effects in your gut.

    Capsaicin patches and creams are also approved for pain relief, particularly chronic nerve pain. Applying capsaicin directly to the skin in high doses can overwhelm the receptors, numbing or damaging the nerves so that they no longer release inflammatory chemicals or send pain signals to the brain. “Paradoxically, even though it might generate some momentary burning,” Julius says, “it could lead to a longer lasting analgesia for certain types of irritancy or pain.”

    Overall, experts agree that if you eat spice in moderation, you’ll likely be fine. And for those times when you over-do it, have some full-fat dairy on-hand. Capsaicin is fat soluble, so yogurt or milk really can help absorb the chemical and provide you with some relief.

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    Is It Dangerous to Eat Really Hot Peppers?

    It’s standard for spicy food to cause your upper lip to sweat, your nose to run, and your mouth to feel like it’s on fire. But can eating hot peppers mess with your health post-meal? The question is worth considering, especially as the ALS Pepper Challenge (AKA the Ice Bucket Challenge 2.0) gains popularity.

    Stars like Kelly Clarkson and Shaquille O’Neal have been spotted swallowing spicy stuff for the challenge, which aims to raise awareness and funds for the neurodegenerative disease. But while we watched them struggle to chomp on crazy hot peppers, we couldn’t help but wonder: What makes chilies so darn fiery and are they even safe to nosh on in excess? Here, we pepper nutritionist Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, with all our burning questions. Read the below before you eat a heap of habañeros.

    RELATED: What a Love of Spicy Foods Might Say About Your Personality

    What makes peppers so hot?

    The main compound that gives chilies their signature kick is a phytonutrient called capsaicin. “Capsaicin attaches to the receptors on the taste buds that detect temperature and sends signals of spicy heat to the brain,” explains Bazilian, who’s also the author of Eat Clean, Stay Lean.

    The amount of heat a pepper packs has to do with the level of capsaicin it contains. To figure out how spicy a certain type of hot pepper is, adventurous eaters can refer to the Scoville scale, which ranks varieties from most to least spicy based on their capsaicin concentration. The scale ranges from standard bell peppers that have no capsaicin to ghost peppers and the Trinidad scorpion–the spiciest chilies around.

    RELATED: 7 Fat-Burning Foods That Boost Metabolism

    Dangers of eating hot peppers

    “It’s a bit of a myth that hot peppers can actually create physical damage to the esophagus or tongue,” says Bazilian. But that doesn’t mean there are no dangers associated with noshing on fiery foods. Why? When we eat very hot peppers, the brain receives “pain” signals that can result in an upset stomach, nausea, or vomiting, says Bazilian. The stomach reacts as if you’ve consumed a toxic substance and works to release whatever was just eaten–i.e. spicy peppers–stat.

    “If vomiting occurs, the acid that comes up from the stomach can irritate the esophagus,” explains Bazilian. Depending how hot a pepper is, that irritation can cause serious damage. Back in October 2016, one man actually burned a hole in his esophagus after consuming (and subsequently retching) ghost peppers during an eating contest. Other potential reactions to eating super-spicy peppers include numbness and breathing difficulties.

    RELATED: The 13 Best Chili Recipes of All Time

    Health benefits of hot peppers

    To complicate things, eating hot peppers can also deliver health benefits. Research suggests that certain capsaicin-rich ingredients, like cayenne pepper, can help eaters slim down by curbing appetite and revving the body’s calorie-burning abilities. What’s more, cayenne has also been shown to help clear sinuses, ease pain, and curb the growth of some bacteria.

    To reap the benefits of hot peppers, choose varieties that aren’t too high on the Scoville scale and consume them in tasty meals, rather than straight up. “This way the impact on the tongue, esophagus, and stomach is less, too,” says Bazilian.

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    And if you’re planning on entering a hot pepper eating contest or taking the ALS Pepper Challenge, remember this: “When we consume things that aren’t appetizing to us and in quantities that are unreasonable, the possibility for adverse outcomes and discomfort are very real,” says Bazilian. Consider yourself warned.

    Hotter (and Healthier) than a Pepper Sprout

    Mark Sandlin

    In the center of many Southern tables, the bottles of hot sauce and cruets of pepper vinegar are as certain as the salt and pepper shakers. We’re known to line up to eat chicken that’s so hot that we must sign waivers. We are home to the world’s hottest chile pepper and we have the paperwork to prove it. The Carolina Reaper, bred by Smokin’ Ed Currie of the PuckerButt Pepper Company in Rock Hill, South Carolina, earned the Guinness World Record on August 7, 2013.

    Yes, spicy heat hits the spot in the South, but those potent potions might be doing us more good than we realized. Research suggests that there are health benefits to chile consumption. From their capsaicinoids, to be more specific, which are the fiery compounds inside hot peppers that give them their oomph, from a hint to a wallop. Paradoxically, capsaicinoids are tasteless, so when we say that a chile pepper tastes hot, what we really mean is that it is irritating and aggravating our mouth, lips, eyes, and all the tender things from stem to stern.

    Heat threshold and sensitivity varies from person to person, so although there is little consensus on how hot is hot, we can get an objective estimate by looking at a chile’s Scoville score. A Scoville is a unit of measurement named for Wilbur Scoville, inventor of the test that measures these things. A mild chile, such as an Anaheim, is around 500 units, while the fierce chiles can clock in around 500,000 units. The aforementioned Carolina Reaper clocks in at a staggering 2.2 million SHUs. Shew boy.

    The good news is that we don’t have to duel with something as wicked as a Carolina Reaper to still reap benefits. Researchers are working on linking hot peppers to pain management and to the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, weight loss and cancer. Here’s some of what they’ve found so far, but keep in mind that you should always seek guidance and corroboration from a medical professional.

    • As an analgesic, capsaicin can help reduce pain and inflammation, which is why it is an active ingredient in some topical pain-relief ointments. As anyone who has teared up, turned drippy, and reached for a tissue after eating salsa can attest, hot peppers can open sinuses made stuffy by colds and allergies.
    • Eating hot peppers causes our bodies to release endorphins, which can lead to a rush of euphoria. Or maybe that’s only the giddy feeling of relief that that last bite didn’t kill us.
    • Hot peppers might help with weight loss. Some scientists suggest that capsicum consumption activates the healthy brown fat in our bodies that burns calories. Other research suggests that the peppers curb our appetites and make us feel satiated more quickly. That’s interesting, but it makes sense that people will eat less of foods that make them feel as though their face is melting.
    • Some chiles are good sources of basic nutrients that confer health benefits, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A, carotenoids,), flavonoids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Won’t hurt. Might help.

    Health benefits notwithstanding, eating hot chile peppers brings joy to some of us. Embracing the burn makes us feel robust, burly, and indomitable. That’s bound to do us some good. No matter what hot sauce brings to the table, we’re going to keep bringing it to the table.

    Summit Medical Group Web Site

    Enjoy the Heat! Health benefits of eating hot peppers

    By Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, CPT for Summit Medical Group

    Do you know that there are over 200 varieties of hot peppers?1 Hot peppers have been cultivated since at least 7500 BC, and are an important – and flavorful – part of food traditions throughout the world.2

    Spicy hot foods don’t just taste delicious; they also are a good source of vitamins E and A and contain small amounts of several vitamins and minerals including vitamins K, B6, B2, B3, copper, iron and potassium.3 Hot peppers also boast several health benefits including slightly increasing metabolism to burn more calories, decreasing appetite especially for fatty, sweet and/or salty foods and improving cardiovascular health by decreasing inflammation.4 These effects are small, but routinely including hot peppers in your daily food choices may be a simple and tasty way to help promote health.1 The health benefits are due to capsaicin, a component present in peppers in direct relationship to the heat level. The heat level of peppers is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) which are the number of times a chili extract is diluted in water until it loses its heat. Bell peppers rank lowest at zero SHU, jalapenos score 3000-6000 SHU, and habanero peppers generate 300,000 SHU.2

    Capsaicin is a phytochemical in peppers that gives them their spicy hot taste. Capsaicin is an oil-like substance that repels water, which is why drinking a glass of water when your mouth feels like it’s on fire after eating a jalapeno pepper only increases the intensity of the heat. Drink a glass of cold milk instead of water, and you’ll put out the fire.3

    Which parts of peppers contain capsaicin?

    The white membranes inside peppers contain the most capsaicin, followed by the flesh of the pepper. The seeds contain no capsaicin.3

    Does eating hot and spicy foods really make me feel cooler in the summer?

    One study showed that eating hot peppers decreases skin temperature, although core body temperature increased.5 You might feel cooler because sweating is the body’s cooling mechanism, and eating spicy foods makes us sweat.

    Do spices made from hot peppers also contain capsaicin?

    Chili powder, cayenne pepper, and other types of dried spices are made from the entire pepper, and contain capsaicin.3

    How to use peppers in cooking:

    • Add diced peppers to scrambled eggs, hash browns, cornbread, or any other recipe where you want some extra spice and heat.
    • Sprinkle cayenne pepper and lemon juice on sautéed dark leafy green vegetables like mustard, dandelion, or collard greens.
    • Stir diced peppers into salad dressing.
    • Add chopped peppers into tuna or chicken salad for a spicy zing.

    Caution: Capsaicin in peppers can cause a burning sensation on your hands when you’re cutting peppers for food preparation. If you touch your lips or rub your eyes, you’ll spread the burning pain to those areas as well. For safety, wear gloves when cooking with peppers, wash your hands thoroughly, and clean cutting boards and knives with soapy water.

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