The fruit of capsicum has been known for many years for many different beneficial health properties. The part of capsicum that makes it taste hot, and has many benefits, is called capsaicin.
Naturally-occurring capsaicin comes in two forms: 1 naturally-occurring form; and 2, further synthetic forms. Civamide is one of these forms, and many believe this form to cause less irritation than naturally occurring capsaicin.
Capsaicin can be used topically to help with some kinds of pain relief. It can cause cutaneous vasodilation from topical application through selective stimulation of nerve fibers and the release of a sensory neurotransmitter that mediates pain.
Part of this pain relief may be due to the actual degeneration of epidermal nerve fibers, not just their desensitization. However, it should be noted that it can also bind sensory receptors in the skin causing heightened skin sensitivity often felt as itching, pricking, or burning. So should be used with caution.
For migraine and other headaches, capsaicin is thought to cause a desensitizing effect by relieving both peripheral and central pain.
“Preliminary evidence (also) suggests that capsicum protects against aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) damage to the gastrointestinal mucosa...” and hence may have use alongside the intake of such medications, where the medication is absolutely necessary, to help offset side effects.
This has also led to the hypothesis that capsaicin might decrease the risk of peptic and other ulcerative conditions. But this should be professionally induced and temporarily monitored to avoid over-use and the opposing potential of causing ulceration.
Energy and Weight-Loss Connection
Capsaicin, the chemical in chili that give it its heat, is known for many benefits. It has long been speculated for being able to potentially reduce hunger and even increase energy usage, helping as part of a weight management program.
The regional distribution of body fats is a very important component of the obesity-related health hazards, including type 2 diabetes and coronary heart diseases. Dietary supplementation of 0.014% capsaicin in a high-fat diet has shown to lower the visceral adipose tissue weight and serum triglyceride concentration in studies, with an added enhancement of energy metabolism.
The enhancement of energy metabolism could be due to the increase of thermogenesis (the process of heat production) in adipose tissue through the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. This serves either to maintain body temperature and the processing of waste food energy.
The potential weight loss effects of capsaicin are thought to be produced by the stimulation of sensory nerve activities interacting with certain binding receptors.
But how practical is this in our diets?
In order to achieve the needed intake, the amounts that you need to eat are by far over what an average person would be prepared to consume on a daily basis, and over what would be considered a healthy and safe amount.
Studies carried out by the Purdue University in India have looked at the effect of smaller quantities therefore, using half a teaspoon as a study guide, to give a more realistic outlook and one that most people would be able to physically consume.
Studies consisted of two groups - people who like spicy food and people who don't like spicy food. Results showed that, in general “…red pepper consumption did increase core body temperature and burn more calories through natural energy expenditure...”
However, it was also noted that effects may not last for long, as the more that people become used to the burning sensation of the spice, the less good it does. It seems the burning effect of the chili at the beginning parts of digestion, in your mouth, is an important component of its health benefits.
Findings show that red pepper should be consumed in non-capsule form because of this 'taste' - the sensory experience – which may maximize the digestive process.
"That burn in your mouth is responsible for the (potential) effect...It turns out you get a more robust effect if you include the sensory part because the burn contributes to a rise in body temperature, energy expenditure and appetite control." (Journal Physiology and Behavior)
In the same studies, those who did not consume red pepper regularly, and hence didn't become used to the 'spicy' experience, experienced a more successful decrease of hunger, especially for fatty, salty and sweet foods. So the conclusion was that “...consuming red pepper can help manage appetite and burn more calories after a meal, especially for individuals who do not consume the spice regularly.”
However, it isn't any kind of magical 'cure all' and we shouldn't get carried away with these results.
Such studies do hold 'weight' (please excuse the pun!), but they are only one part of a whole regime that we should use when looking at weight management.
By putting together a number of changes – correct exercise and exercise duration, correct general healthy eating, little and often, increased pure fluids (water and blending), plus correct balancing supplementation to help maintain body balance (such as our Total Balance Premium, Omega 3/DHA range, and our Natural Energy for example), we have a potentially very meaningful weight management regime.
Within this, simple related dietary changes, such as sprinkling red pepper on your meal for example, may be sustainable and beneficial in the long term, especially when paired with the above essential changes.
There is a controversial opinion in this discussion however which does also warrant merit...Chili peppers speed up the metabolism and may help to burn off calories, this we know. This may account, in a small part, why many Thai people, for example, tend to eat 5-7 times a day and still remain within a generally healthy weight ratio.
But of course this isn't the only factor. There are other lifestyle reasons involved, such like the Japanese and Thai diets that generally shun dairy, except eggs, and eat vitamin-rich vegetables and herbs with almost every meal.
In the Western world however, far from curbing appetite, the types of dishes where we try to mimic these diets are far from authentic. More along the 'fast-food' convenience line. These dishes are completely different, with high amounts of fat and salt mixed in with the once fresh or dried chili, making them highly addictive. So maybe we need to take a more 'authentic approach' when considering trying to mimic a healthier global diet.
Whether it is in our diet, sprinkled as a condiment for example, or in controlled dose for short-term help with certain conditions, capsaicin has many benefits, and is just one of many herbs widely available to us.