Cayenne pepper is well-known for the ultra-spicy kick it can give foods like chili, salsa, and more. But this bright red spice has many health benefits in its own right, ranging from improved circulation to digestive health support to even a natural way to address menstrual cramps.
Cayenne has been used as a medicinal aid for more than 9,000 years, and has been relied on that long for a valuable cooking spice, too.
The spice component of cayenne can literally help to improve circulation in the body, which can reduce risks of clotting and other heart-related complications.
So how can you put this super spice to work for your health? Let’s dig in.
What is Cayenne Pepper?
Cayenne pepper is a variety of chili pepper, native to Central and South America, and taken to Europe by none other than Christopher Columbus.
Cayenne pepper is in the nightshade family of foods, along with bell peppers and jalapeno peppers.
Cayenne is rich in antioxidants, which help to fight oxidative damage in the body. Other nutrients included in cayenne pepper are vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin K, manganese, riboflavin, and potassium.
Why Is Cayenne Pepper So Hot?
Cayenne pepper gets its hot and spicy properties from the active ingredient, capsaicin. This also happens to be the medicinal property that gives them most of their health benefits, too.
Individual cayenne peppers will have slightly different heat profiles, but the more capsaicin they contain, the hotter they taste.
15 Proven Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper has been used medicinally for thousands of years, for good reason. There are numerous proven health benefits of cayenne pepper, and these are the top 15.
Cayenne pepper can be used to decrease appetite and reduce hunger. No one likes to feel hungry, and this spice can improve how your appetite is regulated and lead to longer feelings of fullness after meals.
One of the ways this happens is by cayenne’s effect on ghrelin, a hormone involved in appetite regulation.
People who supplement with capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper, are prone to eating less throughout the day, as much as 10 percent less in calories, while at the same time feeling fuller and not deprived.
Helps Regulate Blood Pressure
Having high blood pressure increases the risk of many problems, not the least of which is heart disease, one of the biggest killers worldwide. More than 40 percent of adults have high blood pressure, and this number is increasing.
While there are many natural ways to treat blood pressure, a natural method can be using capsaicin, which can reduce blood pressure levels and help to relax blood vessels.
While most research on capsaicin and blood pressure is done on animals, not humans, the results are promising, indicating the need for more investigative research.
Boosts Digestive Function & Helps Prevent Leaky Gut
Cayenne pepper is a potent nutritional support for digestive health, starting with the fact that it helps improve saliva production, which ensures that food gets broken down from the beginning.
Cayenne also boosts enzymes which are needed to break down and digest foods. It also improves gastric juice levels, which are needed to finish digestion in the stomach.
Cayenne can also help to prevent leaky gut and work to reduce the chances of developing food allergies because it’s such a potent antioxidant.
Helps Encourage Weight Loss
We know how cayenne can decrease appetite, which is one natural way to encourage weight loss without feeling deprived.
Cayenne also works to improve how the body uses fat for energy and can lead to better breakdown of body fat for weight loss. It revs the engine of the body and increases metabolism, in part because of the heat that it drives.
Cayenne is also anti-inflammatory, and a key to being able to lose weight is by reducing the body’s inflammatory load.
May Reduce Risks of Certain Kinds of Cancer
Cancer is a scary word, but in reality, cancer is cells that start reproducing incorrectly and quickly. Something that is anticancer encourages cells to reproduce correctly, as well as helps the body to scavenge and destroy cells that have started to reproduce in the wrong way.
Capsaicin can help to attack the pathways that lead to improper cell replication and growth, resulting in slowed and even destroyed cancer cells, especially those in skin cancer, pancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer.
Boosts Metabolic Function
Metabolism is about far more than just weight loss, although cayenne does lead to decreased body weight. Metabolic function involves how much energy the cells have to do their various jobs and to reproduce efficiently.
With a healthy metabolic rate, we have good energy and feel healthy. When metabolism is lagging, not only might we have trouble losing weight, but we are also going to feel tired and sluggish.
Cayenne — and specifically the capsaicin found in cayenne — can help to boost metabolic function at a cellular level.
Protects Against Ulcers
Ulcers are a condition that develops in the stomach in the presence of a specific bacteria, H. pylori, that doesn’t get eradicated by the stomach’s defenses. Ulcers can be painful and cause other problems, like bleeding and worsened digestive function.
Cayenne pepper can improve the stomach’s defense against ulcers and the bacteria that causes them by improving enzyme levels and digestive function.
It is a common myth that spicy foods will actually cause ulcers, but in reality, the antioxidant protection of cayenne and other spicy foods can help to signal stomach nerves that they need to activate, leading to increased injury protection.
Helps Protect Against Diarrhea
Diarrhea is a painful and irritating condition, especially when it occurs frequently. Cayenne can provide a calming effect on the digestive system, helping to reduce intestinal irritation that might lead to diarrhea.
Cayenne can also boost the natural production of mucus which protects the gastrointestinal tract from irritants and can even help to heal them from allergy-induced damage or other food-related causes of diarrhea.
Helps Reduce Migraines
Capsaicin can help to address pain throughout the body, and one successful way that it works is by reducing pain concentrations in the head that are often associated with migraine and severe headaches.
Cayenne helps to redistribute pain sensations, decreasing the severity of what is felt in the head alone, and providing a reprieve from the chemicals associated with pain.
Has Anti-fungal Properties
Cayenne can help to destroy fungal infections and pathogens in the body, including candida, which can be associated with recurrent yeast infections. While a certain amount of candida is always present in the body, when yeast overgrows and appears in places it should not be, health problems ensue.
Cayenne helps to keep yeast and fungal growth in check, which can be protective of the immune system and even hormone health.
Fights Joint & Nerve Pain
Migraine isn’t the only pain that capsaicin can address: it’s also great for joint and nerve pain, too and can be used in topical medicinal substances for pain relief.
Cayenne can help to provide post-surgical pain relief, but also nerve pain associated with chronic conditions or injuries, like rheumatoid arthritis and back problems.
While capsaicin is therapeutic for pain, it should never be applied to burns or to open wounds.
Promotes Natural Detox in the Body
The body has natural detox mechanisms built in, thanks to the functions of the liver and kidneys. However, sometimes these organs lack the nutritional support that they need to properly do their jobs, or they become overburdened from health conditions and lifestyle choices.
Cayenne helps to support natural detox by improving blood flow to the detox organs, by decreasing glucose, and by helping to eliminate toxins from the body.
Fights Viral Infections
Viral infections like the cold or flu capitalize on bodies that are weak from lack of antioxidants or stress. Cayenne is a potent source of antioxidants that can better help the body cope with stress, leading to improved immunity and a better line of defense against sickness.
Cayenne can also help to reduce mucus from colds, improving symptoms even if you are sick. It’s also a natural flu remedy since it helps the body to sweat, which can help the body eliminate toxins and boost metabolic and immune function.
Promotes Healthy Blood Clotting
We need our blood to have healthy clotting properties. Too much, and we develop clots. Too little, and we would bleed out from a simple paper cut. There are complex mechanisms in the body regulating how clotting works, and cayenne supports normal and healthy clotting balance.
Cayenne can actually work to prevent the development of blood clots, which is a major reason why it can protect heart health.
Helps Address Psoriasis
The skin condition psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the skin, appearing as patches of red, scaly skin that is itchy and uncomfortable.
While there are not cures for autoimmune disorders, capsaicin creams are a therapeutic treatment for psoriasis because they decrease inflammation on the surface of the skin and improve the skin’s appearance.
Cautions About Cayenne Pepper
While cayenne pepper has all of these health benefits, it’s important to understand that not every health remedy works for everyone.
Cayenne peppers, when used as a food, are safe to eat if you can tolerate the heat and spice, although if you are sensitive to nightshades, you will want to avoid them in any form.
Eating too much cayenne pepper at once can produce stomach discomfort. You should always check with your doctor before starting any supplement, even those that are topical, like capsaicin cream, to ensure that there are no interactions or contraindications.
You should be especially cautious if you are on blood thinners, pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking any prescription medication.
How to Buy Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne peppers can be purchased in several forms, including fresh, dried, or powdered, and in supplement form as capsaicin capsules or creams.
When buying cayenne fresh, the peppers should be bright red, firm, and free from spots or discoloration. Peppers will keep fresh in the refrigerator for five to seven days.
Dried cayenne peppers can be used to make your own cayenne pepper at home, or you can buy pre-ground cayenne pepper. Just be sure to choose an organic version.
When buying capsaicin supplements, ensure that you read the label to check what other ingredients are in the product. Ask your doctor for supplement brands that are reputable and safe.
Capsaicin creams should also be checked for additional ingredients. You will want to avoid products with fragrance or artificial ingredients since these too will get absorbed in your skin.
Before using a cream, test a small patch on your skin to check for a reaction, and always thoroughly wash your hands after handling cream or cayenne pepper of any kind — it can sting your eyes and cause extreme pain.
If you want to be sure you’ve gotten cayenne off your hands, use dish soap and vinegar, and then rinse with water at the end.
Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.