Cayenne is a fruit not a herb, but possesses the healing properties of herbs. Cayenne peppers belong to the nightshade family of plants like the jalapeno and bell pepper.
These all contain oleoresin capsaicin which is where the health benefits of cayenne pepper derive from.
It is used in spicy dishes as a powder or vinegar like sauce. It gets it’s hot properties from a substance called capsaicin oleoresin which affects the body’s nerves causing them to release a neurotransmitter called substance-p into the bloodstream.
This release of substance-p is what causes the burning sensation. However this neurotransmitter is rapidly depleted, temporarily blocking the nerves from transmitting pain signals to the brain. This is the basis for the health benefits of cayenne pepper.
The hot properties of cayenne are measured in scoville units, also called heat units. Cayenne peppers are usually between 30,000 and 50,000 scoville units, with some other forms of hot peppers actually exceeding 100,000 heat units.
Most commercial encapsulated cayenne powders start at around 20,000 units, which is quite adequate to get the benefits of cayenne. It can also be made as a tea or a tincture, which is more effective in getting cayenne pepper herbs into the body rapidly.
You need to be cautious using capsules of cayenne, because when they begin to dissolve in your stomach the sensation can be quite uncomfortable to downright painful.
Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper
Some of the health benefits of cayenne pepper are:
Ability to stop a heart attack in progress
Lowering blood pressure while strengthening heart performance
Safe and natural stimulant action
Improves circulation through vasodilatation
Effective topical pain reliever for arthritis and joint pain
Useful for relieving gastrointestinal problems such as stomach aches, cramping and gas
Relieving headache pain
Thinning the blood – helping prevent blood clots
Relieving pain due to diabetic neuropathy, shingles, psoriasis, and fibromyalgia
The health benefits of cayenne pepper revolve around this substance-p depletion affect. Cayenne pepper and heart health are related to this as well. Cayenne aids in promoting cardiovascular health and has an all around tonic effect on the circulatory system.
Cayenne Pepper and Heart Health
One of the most dramatic health benefits of cayenne pepper is its reported ability to stop a heart attack in its tracks! This effect comes from the ability of cayenne to act as a vasodilator and open arteries allowing critical blood flow to the heart to resume.
Cayenne helps prevent blood clots from forming due to it’s effect on blood platelet aggregation (stickiness). This anticoagulant effect is part of the relationship between cayenne pepper and heart health, and cayenne does it naturally with no toxic side effects.
In the case of heart attacks, cayenne is best given orally as a tincture or hot tea to speed its entry into the bloodstream. According to the famous herbalist Dr. John Christopher this amounts to a teaspoon of cayenne powder in a cup of hot water, about 500mg dosage.
Dr. Christopher claims that he has used this preparation a number of times to save the life of a patient who was having a heart attack. The cayenne tea was able to dilate the arteries and restore critical circulation and blood flow to the heart.
This is perhaps one of the most dramatic health benefits of cayenne pepper!
Cayenne and Diabetes
Health benefits of cayenne pepper extend to diabetic conditions as well. Recent research in which type I diabetes was cured in mice used capsicum extracted from cayenne pepper.The capsicum was used to deplete substance-p in the pancreas of the mice and allow the islet cells to begin working again and producing insulin.
This new development is interesting in light of the fact that cayenne has been used for many years as a “folk remedy” for diabetes. It would appear that science is finally confirming what centuries old folk medicine knew about cayenne pepper herbs.
Capsaicin Cream – Topical Pain Relief
There are now a host of topical pain relief creams based on capsaicin from cayenne peppers. These creams work by depleting substance-p from the sensory nerves in the affected area and preventing transmission of pain signals to the brain.
Capsicum based creams and lotions have become quite popular for both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis as well as other painful conditions of the muscles and joints. These creams are also extensively used in veterinary medicine on racing horses and dogs. The health benefits of cayenne also extend to animals as well as humans.
Capsicum based preparations used on horses can also be used safely on humans as they are formulated to be used on a horses skin which is more sensitive to irritation than human skin. My personal favorite is Equibloc, which can be found on the web. It is gentle on the skin while being very effective for relieving pain!
When using capsicum based creams avoid getting any on your hands and subsequently touching your eyes. You should also be aware that when it is on your skin and you shower or bathe soon after, you will likely experience a burning sensation.
Water seems to intensify the effects of oleo-resin capsicum so you will want to avoid getting the area that you applied it to wet. Eventually you will become used to the effects and the uncomfortable sensations will lessen.
Dosages and Preparations for Cayenne Pepper Healing
Cayenne is used in several forms:
Capsules: 20,000 to 50,000 scoville units (usually 500-800mg capsules)
Tinctures: (0.3-1ml) 3 times/day
Topical creams: 0.025 to 75% capsaicin
Cayenne tea infusion
An infusion of cayenne tea would be made by combining one cup of hot water with ½ to 1 teaspoon full of cayenne powder. Let it set for ten minutes. You would then combine a teaspoon of this infusion in water and take up to three times per day.
Capsules can be taken up to three times per day before meals, and topical capsicum creams should be used 3-4 times per day until the pain subsides.
Akilah M. El, N.D. is a Naturopathic Doctor and board-certified Master Herbalist with a private practice in Atlanta Georgia and Berlin Germany. Join Dr Akilah El on Facebook and Twitter