Food allergies are a serious problem across the globe, but what you’ll find when examining foods like cayenne pepper is that looks can be deceiving. Some of the most harmful-seeming foods can produce some of the healthiest outcomes, and vice versa.
To give a better idea of what we’re talking about here, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) lists the top food allergens as reported in millions of cases across the US. The top offenders:
- Tree nuts
- Crustacean Shellfish
Notice that nowhere in that list is cayenne pepper (or any others for that matter). Now that doesn’t mean a pepper is incapable of triggering an immune response. But it does show that “intimidating” foods that “bring the heat” aren’t as scary as they may appear.
When it comes to cayenne, in particular, you’ll see a pepper with nutritional value and popular, far-reaching health benefits. This article will focus on these benefits.
But to understand what they are and how they operate, we must first know what’s actually in one.
Cayenne Pepper Nutritional Info
Cayenne pepper is one of the more substantive and nutrition veggies out there, with just 17 calories per one teaspoon serving. That same serving size also features one gram of fat, two milligrams of sodium, three grams of carbohydrates, and one gram each of fiber, sugar, and protein.
At the same time, it features 44 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for vitamin A, eight percent for vitamin E, seven percent vitamin C, and six percent vitamin B6.
Additionally, it features five percent vitamin K and manganese RDI, three percent potassium, and no cholesterol. Each of these factors plays a role in the health benefits we’re about to mention.
The 16 Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper
We’ve still got a lot to learn about the many ways cayenne pepper can help the human body in ways that other foods can’t. But we do have evidence pointing to quite a few benefits already.
In the following section, we’ll cover it all from topical treatments to internal medicine. Let’s get started with…
1. Relieving Cold and Flu Symptoms
Every season, many of us become convinced Mother Nature is out to kill us. We think this way because of the coughing, the sneezing, and the stuffed-up feeling that has made appearances in many a Nyquil commercial.
A cold can affect energy levels, comfort, and one’s enjoyment of food. The flu can put you out of commission for several days, resulting in lost productivity and more serious health issues.
While you should probably stick to medications for diagnosed cases of flu, cayenne pepper can prove useful in alleviating symptoms the next time the cold/flu season hits.
The pepper contains an element called capsaicin, which acts as a natural decongestant. Grind or blend into your favorite drink and use until you notice improvements.
2. Elevating the Burn
The capsaicin found in cayenne and other “spicy” peppers also is valuable to the fitness community. As you get older, your metabolism has a tendency to slow down, especially if you’re not living a very “fit” lifestyle.
Now, eating a cayenne pepper won’t magically put you onto a treadmill, but it could do some special things with your body once you get there.
Capsaicin is said to elevate body temperature. As a result, your body can enter into a state where it experiences a higher “burn” rate for the same levels of exercise compared to what you would be doing without the pepper.
Being able to get a little more out of your workout through increased calorie burns is vital to losing weight or toning up your body. But just how big of a difference can it make?
Some studies estimate 15 to 20 percent more calories burned for two hours after consuming a cayenne pepper.
3. Suppressing Appetite
Another great aspect of cayenne pepper is that it can help you with your appetite. In fact, many consumers are attracted to this quality above all others.
If you’re like millions of Americans who struggle with sugars and fats in your daily diet, then you know how quickly a 1,500- or 2,000 calorie allotment can vanish without eating anything of substance.
And while you could lose weight eating nothing but M&Ms every day so long as you didn’t exceed your daily allotment of calories, it wouldn’t be a sustainable path for long-term health.
That’s because eating your M&Ms would provide you with very little in way of proteins, fibers, vitamins, and minerals. It’s mostly sugar. Your body would need extra support from somewhere, or you end up risking malnourishment.
How does cayenne pepper help? Again, the “spicy” agent kills cravings for sugars, fats, and other empty calories. By using cayenne as a food or a seasoning, you’ll end up feeling less of a temptation to eat unhealthy foods and instead focus on a diet that gives you more of what you need.
4. Soothing Inflammation
On the surface, this one might seem counterintuitive. After all, don’t cayenne peppers “set your mouth on fire”? Well, yes, they can turn the heat up on your taste buds and elevate body temperature.
But they also help to reduce unnecessary inflammation within your body. What do we mean by “unnecessary”?
Well, normal inflammation is when the body’s white blood cells release chemicals to help ward off infection. But some conditions can “fool” the body into believing that a response is warranted in areas that are perfectly healthy.
This is where autoimmune diseases like arthritis come from. Of course, inflammation can bring on even more serious diseases than that. We’ll cover more throughout the rest of this article.
But for now, just know that cayenne pepper can help soothe the effects of inflammation due to its antioxidant properties.
5. Caring for Hair and Skin
As many of you already know, hair and skin are closely related. That’s because hair is basically composed of dead skin cells. Because of this relationship, what is good for one is often good for the other, hence why they get a shared grouping in this particular section.
Cayenne pepper, to the surprise of no one reading this, has some great qualities that improve the health, look, and feel of skin in all its forms. It is helpful in “plumping” the skin, eliminating wrinkles, bringing out your hair’s shine, and — teenagers rejoice! — treating acne.
Unlike with other benefits listed here, capsaicinoid compounds are not the primary catalyst. That distinction instead goes to vitamins C and E, which are found abundantly within the pepper.
In addition to beauty needs, cayenne has proven effective in fighting skin problems like psoriasis. Specifically, the pepper has the ability to relieve itching and skin lesions that are associated with the condition.
6. Diffusing Bloat and Aiding in Digestion
Women experiencing pregnancy and men and women with digestive issues know all too well the discomfort of bloating in the stomach and digestive tract.
Frequent bloating can make it hard to enjoy a meal, hard to sleep, hard to enjoy life in general. You live in a constant state of will-I-or-won’t-I when it comes to going to the bathroom.
If you’re averse to public toilets, that can even influence your freedom to leave your house for an extended period of time.
Cayenne pepper is not the only solution out there for bloating, but it can certainly make a difference. Here’s how it works. It stimulates digestive enzymes and pushes them throughout your system, burning up the excess gas buildup.
This also eases the digestive process, which is particularly appealing for sufferers of irritable bowel disease. One caveat is that it does act as a natural laxative, so you will want to be in a comfortable location after consuming it.
7. Calming Headaches and Toothaches
The claim that cayenne pepper is a good cure-all for headaches and toothaches predates any science that actually helps to explain it.
We all know an old relative who swore up and down that if you experienced either of these aches and pains, the first thing you needed to do was head to the produce section buy a pepper, slice that bad boy up, and chow down.
Well, as it turns out, pains like these exist because of a neurotransmitter (Substance P). For whatever reason, likely the capsaicin compound, Substance P finds itself under attack whenever you eat a cayenne pepper or consume it through capsule, pill, powder, or another method.
By depleting P, you are able to get some relief. You will probably want to see a doctor, though, if the pains persist.
8. Detoxifying the Liver
Rats often are used as test subjects when examining the effects of certain medicines and remedies on human beings due to similarities in their biochemistries.
We have been able to learn a lot about what medicines can help mankind based on these observations, and there are plenty of studies out there that show a link between improved liver function in rats injected with cayenne pepper versus those without.
Specifically, cayenne has proven effective in dealing with liver fibrosis and lowering lipids found in the liver, which oversees detoxification for the entire body.
9. Managing Diabetes Naturally
Diabetics are diabetics because they have trouble managing glucose levels in the bloodstream. While there are dietary and medicinal steps you can take to control or manage this, cayenne pepper is especially effective in aiding absorption of glucose from the small intestine, this according to a March 2006 issue of the European Journal of Pharmacology.
Absorption is key. This lowers blood sugar levels and reduces many of the harmful symptoms that make diabetes a challenge to deal with.
10. Boosting Heart Health
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 600,000 people in the US die each year due to complications from heart disease. What characterizes this lethal condition?
High blood pressure, high cholesterol (fats), poor circulation, frequent clotting, and heart attacks. The scary thing about it is that heart disease isn’t always created through lifestyle decisions. For some, it is genetic.
Fortunately, cayenne pepper — and in particular, its antioxidant properties — are effective in addressing circulatory issues. It has a special ability to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as thin out thick blood to avoid life-threatening clots.
You will still want to consult with a cardiologist, but a teaspoon of cayenne pepper as a seasoning or a regular regimen of cayenne-based supplements should help.
11. Fighting Ulcers
Ulcers, or open wounds, that appear in the digestive tract can cause a great deal of pain during and after meals. And if you’re like us, that’s like sucking the joy out of life.
Many doctors may advise you against spicy foods and peppers when suffering an ulcer, but cayenne peppers operate differently.
For starters, there’s a link between the formulation of ulcers and the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). Capsaicin kills this bacterium, and it can lead to the prevention or healing of ulcers.
Furthermore, cayenne’s ability to regulate secretions means that it can stop or soothe the painful effects of ulcers while promoting production for protective enzymes.
Given the volatility of other peppers, though, do consult with your doctor first when taking cayenne pepper for this particular issue.
12. Reducing the Pain of Arthritis
As previously mentioned, cayenne pepper is good at reducing inflammation throughout the body thanks to its antioxidant properties. Arthritis is a product of inflammation.
It occurs when the joints become inflamed, and it can occur all over the body — knees, hands, elbows, feet, wherever there’s a bone and a joint basically.
Particularly painful and alarming forms of arthritis — like rheumatoid — can even get worse with rest and result in further complications such as low red blood cell count (poor circulation), and swelling around the heart and lungs.
Rheumatoid arthritis also can reduce life expectancy by as many as 12 years.
13. Easing Allergies
Allergies usually manifest in the form of coughing, sneezing, stuffiness, and congestion. Going back to the cold and flu benefit, cayenne pepper helps to alleviate all of these symptoms by easing the kind of inflammation that often results in these manifestations.
It can’t change the nature of what you’re allergic to, but it could help you avoid discomfort and remain functional without having to sacrifice your outdoor time.
14. Confronting Some Forms of Cancer
The Cancer Treatment Centers of America have named cayenne pepper as one of their foods with cancer-fighting properties. Capsaicin once again appears to be the active agent, and it has proven particularly effective in slowing the growth of prostate cancer cells, making it a valuable addition to any man’s diet.
In fact, one study — from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine — determined it could have the ability to destroy such cells.
Other CTCA preferred foods include turmeric, garlic, black pepper, oregano, cruciferous vegetables, berries, tomatoes, watermelon, whole grains, and green tea.
15. Acting As an Antifungal and Antibacterial Agent
Cayenne pepper is an antifungal agent capable of fighting 16 individual forms of fungi. Not coincidentally, the Centers for Disease Control lists 16 types of fungal diseases. Fungi cause more harm than athlete’s foot.
A fungal disease or infection can attack an array of organs and systems. These include the following:
- Lungs and respiratory
- Immune system
- Reproductive system
- Circulatory system
- The brain and nervous system
Cayenne pepper is considered an antibacterial agent as well. Bacterial infections are most commonly associated with skin and digestive attacks.
Taking cayenne can help guard against illnesses from food borne pathogens that lead to diarrhea, food poisoning, and all kinds of other goodies.
16. Improving Your Dental Health
While you do have to be careful with peppers of any kind when it comes to teeth and the sensitivity of gum tissue, cayenne’s antibacterial properties apply here as well.
Since bacteria are the cause of tooth decay, having an agent that fights it for you can be effective in warding off some of the especially nasty strains that can lead to chipping, breaking, and cavities.
Subsequently, it also can ward off gum disease, which weakens the root and the tooth as a whole.
Cayenne Pepper: Modes of Delivery
Now that we’ve covered each of the health benefits and the underlying nutritional value, it’s time to think about the best ways to take cayenne. Some people cannot deal with the flavor profile, specifically the heat that emanates from a big bite out of these little red demons.
If that describes you, there are some more efficient modes of delivery that can provide the health benefits without as much of the associated discomfort. Let’s look at some of the main ones.
Grounds As a Seasoning
Ground up cayenne pepper may still bring the heat, but when mixed in with the main course as a seasoning, it doesn’t pack quite the same wallop to your taste buds.
You can buy cayenne pre-ground pretty cheap or choose to do it yourself. For sensitive taste buds, consider sticking to a teaspoon or two for the entire meal.
In Favorite Liquids
Many swear by lemon water as a mode for getting your cayenne fix without succumbing to the heat. Just add one teaspoon per eight ounces of water, squeeze in some lemon juice, stir it up, and you’re good to go.
Bonus drink tip: during the holidays, try a cinnamon mocha with cayenne added for some extra punch.
If you consider yourself a wimp when it comes to heat, take heart! You can purchase specially-formulated cayenne pepper capsules that avoid triggering sensitive taste buds.
When going this route, limit intake to 30 milligrams to start. Once you’ve eased in, consider bumping it up to 120 milligrams. Any more than that is not advisable for some of the reasons we’ll get into in a moment.
As an Extract or Powder
Other ways to up your CP intake is to purchase a liquid extract that you can drop into a beverage or use as part of a marinade. Also, supplement powders are available, and they are often marketed for their fat-burning properties to health and nutrition store customers.
You can purchase for anywhere from $5 to $40. If uncertain, start mid-level to keep from over-spending and to see how your body adjusts to the dosage. If you notice discernible benefits, consider trying some of the other less and more expensive options.
Keeping your system off-guard will prevent it from developing a possible immunity to a single brand, and it will push your body to keep working in order to properly synthesize the materials.
Cayenne Side Effects
WebMD considers cayenne pepper and its derivatives “mostly safe,” according to this piece, but you do have to be mindful that it won’t work the same for every person who takes it.
And yes, there could be a small assortment of side effects to watch out for. After all, it is a food, and foods can act as allergens no matter how healthy they normally are.
For cayenne pepper, here are some potential drawbacks to watch for:
- Skin irritation
- Irritating to eyes, nose, and throat
- Damage to the liver and kidneys if taken in too high of doses over a long-term period
Lastly, if you have any planned surgeries coming up, cease use. This goes back to the pepper’s blood thinning properties. When you go under the knife, blood clotting is important.
Cayenne pepper consumption can prevent this from occurring as it needs to, which can lead to excess bleeding.
Cayenne pepper has a look and a reputation that can send the spice-averse running for the escape hatches. But if you can take the heat — or you just want the health benefits we’ve covered here — you shouldn’t be so quick to write it off even if it does come as an acquired taste.
Just remember there are multiple methods of delivery, so if the taste isn’t your thing, consider an alternative means like capsules and extracts.
How about you, readers? Have you tried cayenne pepper for any reason other than taste? What reactions have you had, or in what ways has it improved your life? Share your experiences in the comments section below!