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Capsaicin Explained

Capsaicin Explained

WHAT IS CAPSAICIN?

Capsaicin is a phenolic acid and phytonutrient (a group of chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants and have multiple health benefits but are not considered essential to human health) that is found in chilli peppers. It is the main reason peppers are so hot and has been linked with cancer prevention, pain relief, reduced inflammation and more. In this article I will be providing a full overview of capsaicin and its main health benefits.

WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF CAPSAICIN?

Capsaicin was first extracted from chilli peppers in an impure form by Christian Friedrich Bucholz in 1816. It was later extracted in a pure form by Karl Micko in 1898. In 1919 the chemical composition for capsaicin was determined by E.K.Nelson. It was then later synthesised by Ernst Späth and Stephen Darling in 1930.

WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF CAPSAICIN?

Capsaicin is a highly protective phytonutrient which is beneficial for the prevention and treatment of numerous health disorders.  It can be applied topically or consumed orally.  The list below outlines the full health benefits of capsaicin:
- Acting as an antibacterial (a substance which kills or slows down the growth of bacteria).
- Acting as an anti-inflammatory (a substance which prevents unnecessary inflammation in the body).
- Boosting your metabolism (by providing a temporary thermic effect after ingestion).
- Preventing headaches and migraines.
- Preventing indigestion.
- Preventing sinus infections and sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses).
- Preventing stomach ulcers.
- Preventing various types of cancer (particularly prostate cancer).
- Protecting your heart (by reducing blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides).
- Reducing blood levels of LDL cholesterol (a type of cholesterol which can cause blockages in the arteries and increase your heart disease risk).
- Relieving joint and muscle pain (when applied topically as a cream).
- Relieving nasal congestion.
- Relieving the painful symptoms of arthritis (inflammation of the joints).
- Relieving the painful symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.
- Relieving the painful symptoms of shingles (a type of skin rash that leads to pain and burning sensations).
- Treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Treating psoriasis (a skin condition characterised by red, itchy, scaly patches).

HOW MUCH CAPSAICIN DO YOU NEED?

Children aged 2 and under should not ingest capsaicin or apply it topically. Children aged 2 and over can use capsaicin but are advised to use it minimally. Adults can use creams containing up to 0.075% capsaicin 4 times per day and ingest up to 120 milligrams (mg) of capsaicin 3 times per day.

WHICH FOODS CONTAIN CAPSAICIN?

Capsaicin is found in chilli peppers with the hottest peppers containing the most capsaicin. Unlike many nutrients (which are measured in mg), the amount of capsaicin in peppers is measured using Scoville Heat Units (SHU). These are based on the Scoville Scale (a scale created by the American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in 1912 which measures the amount of capsaicin in peppers). Pure capsaicin has a rating of 16,000,000 SHU. The table below contains a selection of mild and hot peppers with their SHU. Mild peppers are still a great source of capsaicin so don’t worry if you cannot handle the hotter peppers:

FOODSHU
Bhut Jolokia Chilli1,001,304
Cayenne Pepper30,000 – 50,000
Coronado Pepper700 – 1,000
Hot Wax Pepper5,000 – 10,000
Infinity Chilli Pepper1,067,286
Jalapeno Pepper2,500 – 8,000
Naga Viper Pepper1,382,118
Orange Habanero Pepper210,000
Pimento Pepper100 – 500
Poblano Pepper1,000 – 2,000
Red Habanero Pepper150,000
Red Savina Habanero Pepper577,000
Tabasco Pepper30,000 – 50,000
Thai Pepper50,000 – 100,000
Trinidad Scorpion Butch T Pepper1,463,700

 

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CONSUMING TOO MUCH CAPSAICIN?

Although capsaicin has numerous health benefits it is also an irritant and can be very dangerous when high doses are consumed. If you stick to the consumption recommendations above you should experience no negative symptoms. However, consuming more than 120mg of capsaicin 3 times per day can have a number of adverse effects which include:
- Breathing difficulties.
- Burning sensation in the mouth.
- Convulsions.
- Heartburn.
- Nausea.
- Kidney damage.
- Liver damage.
- Severe stomach pains.
- Skin irritation.
- Stomach ulcers.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF FAILING TO CONSUME ENOUGH CAPSAICIN?

Capsaicin is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption.

CAPSAICIN SUMMARY

As you can see, hot curries and peppers do much more than just cranking up the heat inside your body. They also allow you to enjoy the many benefits of capsaicin. Even if you are not a fan of spicy foods, coronado peppers and pimento peppers are relatively mild but still contain capsaicin. And if you are a fan of spicy foods just make sure you don’t go overboard. Too much can be dangerous and actually negate the positive effects of capsaicin.

Sources:
Capsaicin: 7 Powerful Health Benefits (SixWise)
Capsaicin Benefits (Livestrong)
Capsaicin Health Benefits (Cayenne Pepper Cleanse)
Is Too Much Capsaicin Bad For You? (Livestrong)
List of Phytochemicals in Food (Wikipedia)
Scoville Scale For Peppers
Which Peppers Are High In Capsaicin? (Livestrong)

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