Simple Pantry Solutions: Cayenne
by Laurie LaRusso, MS, ELS
Looking for something to relieve your aches and pains? Look no further than your spice rack. Cayenne is the hot (literally) alternative to pain relief.
Cayenne contains a compound called capsaicin, which provides hot, mouthwatering (or mouth-burning depending on your taste buds) flavor and purported health benefits. In fact, capsaicin cream is sold as a nonprescription medicine for the relief of nerve pain. It seems to work by reducing a chemical involved in transmitting pain signals to the brain.
What Are the Healthy Uses for Cayenne?
Medical research suggests that cayenne may have the following health-promoting abilities:
However, the most convincing evidence refers only to external use of cayenne for pain relief. If you have a chronic or serious medical condition, you should not simply self-medicate with cayenne. Instead, see your doctor and discuss using cayenne or capsaicin to relieve symptoms.
How Much Do I Need? TOP
To treat localized painful conditions, use the capsaicin cream as directed.
What Are the Precautions? TOP
Cayenne is spicy and can, therefore, cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and stomach (though it does not worsen stomach ulcers). Wash your hands after handling cayenne or capsaicin cream to avoid getting it in your eyes. If capsaicin cream or cayenne irritates your skin or stomach, stop taking it. Do not apply cayenne or capsaicin cream to broken or irritated skin, or mucous membranes.
Cayenne might increase the amount of theophylline, an asthma medicine, that your body absorbs.
Capsaicin cream may increase the risk of cough in people taking blood pressure medicines called ACE inhibitors.
Safe use in children varies by age. Make sure to read the label carefully before using it on your child.
Although cayenne and capsaicin are considered safe for use during pregnancy, check with your doctor if you intend to use them medicinally during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
American Botanical Council
American Herbal Products Association
The Arthritis Society
Capsaicin. Drugs Information Online website. Available at: http://www.drugs.com/ppa/capsaicin.html. Updated February 6, 2013. Accessed February 6, 2013
Cayenne. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?marketID=15&topicID=114. Updated July 2012. Accessed January 31, 2013.
Dawn A, Yosipovitch G. Treating itch in psoriasis. Dermatol Nurs. 2006;18:227-233.
Mason L, Moore RA, Derry S, Edwards JE, McQuay HJ. Systematic review of topical capsaicin for the treatment of chronic pain. BMJ. 2004;328(7446):991.
Last reviewed February 2013 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 2/6/2013