Capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) is a component found in chili peppers/cayenne pepper, from the Solanaceae (nightshades) family of plants. These chili peppers are native to North and South America. In pure form, capsaicin looks like a crystallized powder. It does not possess a particular smell but is distinguished by the spicy sensation it leaves in the mouth. It is formed by 7 linked alkaloids.
The compound melts at temperatures of 149°F (65°C). Capsaicin is barely soluble in water. But it is affected by alcohol, chloroform and others. So if you consume excessively spicy food, containing capsaicin, you can ingest alcohol to reduce its negative effects. Capsaicin can be derived in large qualities from chili peppers by means of extraction using acetone. The resulting extract is distinguished by an orange or red color. The content of capsaicin in it is between 5 to 10%.
History of Capsaicin
As stated, that spicy burning sensation we get when we eat cayenne pepper is due to the capsaicin compound. It was discovered in the 1st quarter of the 19th century by Christian Bucholz but it would get its current name decades later when John Thresh called it "capsaicin". During the 2nd half of the 19th century, Hungarian medic E. Hőgyes found that the alkaloid in question was not only responsible for the severe burning sensation in the oral cavity but also for the secretion of gastric acid, which had a good effect on digestion. In the last century the substance was derived synthetically.
Benefits of Capsaicin
When absorbed by eating chili peppers, capsaicin helps regulate acids in the stomach and has a beneficial effect on digestive processes. Capsaicin boosts metabolism and is for this reason often included in the diets of people who exercise actively. It's also shown great success when taken by people who want to lose excess weight. But the benefits of this prized component of chili peppers does not simply end there.
A study by researchers from the University of Nottingham not too long ago showed that capsaicin may be the key in the battle against oncological diseases. According to the study it has the capability to destroy cancer cells, at the same time not having a negative effect on the body. This theory is confirmed by scientific experiments done on lab mice. Statistics by the World Health Organization indicate that countries where people consume more of this substance through chili peppers have a lower percentage of persons dying from cancer diseases in comparison to others.
Capsaicin has over the years become the subject of numerous research studies. Over time experts have discovered that it can be used in different fields for different purposes. Capsaicin is a potent substance capable of relieving pain. This valued ingredient, contained in chili peppers, is a key component of no small number of lotions, creams and gels that we use for their warming and anti-inflammatory effects. The substance can be used in therapies for heart and blood vessel problems. Additionally, it prevents clogging of the arteries.
Further, capsaicin is used in creams that reduce pain in people suffering from arthritis and in ones that fight psoriasis and migraine. The compound helps prevent diarrhea due to bacterial infection. Capsaicin has a great effect on blood circulation. There are data that it can function as an aphrodisiac. An irreplaceable quality is its ability to influence nerve receptors that cause painful sensations.
Aside from everything else, the substance is beneficial for the lungs as well, strengthening their tissues. Plus it helps get rid of unneeded secretions faster and more easily. The component charges with energy and enhances physical activity, which is why athletes love it. It can aid people trying to lose weight and tone their body, since it boosts metabolism, curbs appetite and hinders the formation of fat cells. This way, those extra pounds disappear easily and naturally.
Besides as a pharmaceutical component, it finds other uses too. Applications for capsaicin can be found in the home. For example it is used as an insecticide. It's been proven to have excellent effects in the battle with pests such as insects and rats. The substance is added to paint or varnish that would then be applied to the surface. Some people use it to help deter their pets from sharpening their claws in a given area.
Capsaicin can be taken orally in the form of tablets sold in pharmacies. It's possible to feel burning when swallowing them, which is normal. This sensation may continue for up to a month. But with continued use of the substance, it dissipates. Eating food 20 min. after taking capsaicin can mitigate the burning sensation. Still, it's recommended for people with a sensitive stomach to consult a doctor before they begin usage of the product.
Dangers of Capsaicin
Capsaicin is a substance that we need to be very careful with. If it gets in the nose and eyes it causes a painful burning sensation, teary eyes, sometimes even loss of speech, dizziness. In case some of it does get into your nose and eyes, the burning sensation will pass after about an hour. To relieve the unpleasant irritation you can smear the affected area with vegetable oil or honey.
If the problem does not go away, seek medical attention. Sometimes, even though rarely, contact with it can cause respiratory problems, eye problems, dermatitis and nosebleeds. This substance is not recommended for pregnant women, breastfeeding women and people sensitive to it. Capsaicin should also not be used by persons suffering from ulcers. Before you begin use, don't forget to consult with a medical professional.