A colleague of mine is mad for hot sauce. Any time I meet him for a bite to eat or visit his office, there’s always a bottle of hot sauce nearby.
Sure, he enjoys spicy fare, but there’s more to it than that. My friend, like me, scours the latest scientific journals in search of fascinating findings in natural health, alternative medicine and anti-aging.
There’s lots of evidence that capsaicin – the active ingredient in hot peppers – improves longevity because it helps your body stop inflammation. Let’s take a look at what the science reveals about how capsaicin can help you.
Foods such as hot peppers contain high levels of antioxidants, which combat free radicals in your body.
And, as you probably know, free radicals lead to chronic inflammation that can increase your risk of everything from heart disease and arthritis to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. So, it’s no surprise that a number of studies show that eating foods containing capsaicin-rich hot peppers help you live a longer, healthier life.
Lowers Death Rates by 14 Percent
There’s a large study out of China that links the consumption of capsaicin-containing spicy foods to lower mortality rates. The study looked at half a million Chinese adults. Researchers found that those who ate spicy foods three or more times a week had a 14 percent reduced risk of death, compared to their non-spicy food eating peers.1
Additionally, here in the United States, the results based on data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Study (NHANES) linked higher hot pepper intake to a reduced risk of early death.2
While researchers can’t definitively explain the reason for these results based on these studies, they believe that capsaicin seems to bolster heart and metabolic function, in part due to their high antioxidant content.
Interestingly, capsaicin is also shown in studies to improve weight loss.3
In other studies, experts have also found evidence that capsaicin can trigger a healthy form of cell death that may slow or prevent the kinds of cellular mutations that lead to cancer.4
While capsaicin’s longevity benefits are exciting, I’m also fascinated by its ability to relieve pain.
Powerful Natural Pain Relief
One study on the effects of capsaicin found that the compound causes its unique brand of “excitation” by locking onto a specific type of pain receptor. In other words, it works by stimulating pain receptors, which in turn reduce your sensitivity to pain.5
“This excitation leads to the feeling of heat or burning pain, blood vessel dilatation, reddening of the skin and body temperature elevation,” says Anthony Dickenson, author of the study and a professor of neuropharmacology at University College London.
What’s more, the study’s author says once that initial “excitation” has died down, the affected pain receptors tend to become desensitized, which can decrease pain locally.
Capsaicin can trigger these effects whether it’s eaten or applied to the skin in the form of a topical cream. No wonder it’s a popular ingredient in arthritis and muscle-pain creams. There’s also a high-dose capsaicin patch that can lead to several weeks of pain relief.
And scientists aren’t done digging into capsaicin’s pain-relieving benefits.
Recently, scientists reported on an experimental capsaicin injection treatment at the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (ASIPP) virtual meeting.6
According to Dr. Randall Stevens, of Centrexion Therapeutics in Boston, people with chronic knee osteoarthritis, who received the investigational treatment, experienced less pain when walking as soon as three days after the injection and the effect was maintained for eight weeks.
This treatment is still in the early stages, but I’ll be watching for updates, as joint pain is an issue that plagues so many of us.
Capsaicin appears to be a safe, natural way to improve overall health and longevity as well as take care of pain and discomfort. But, take care before consuming copious amounts of hot stuff, especially if you suffer from acid reflux or heartburn. Spicy foods can trigger both conditions.
There’s good news though. Some people observe that, over time, their digestive tracts become desensitized to capsaicin’s effects, reducing both acid reflux and heartburn. But again, take it slow.
As for capsaicin supplements, I suggest taking them just before a meal, as food helps create a buffer to the burning sensation.