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Capsaicin is the ingredient
found in different types of hot peppers, such as cayenne peppers, that makes
the peppers spicy hot. You can eat it in raw or cooked peppers or as a dried
powder, which you can add to food or drinks. It also is available as a dietary
supplement, in topical creams that you apply to your skin, or in a prescription skin patch.
Capsaicin is used to help relieve pain.
Capsaicin works by first stimulating and then decreasing the intensity of pain
signals in the body. Although pain may at first increase, it usually decreases
after the first use. Capsaicin stimulates the release of a compound believed to
be involved in communicating pain between the nerves in the spinal cord and
other parts of the body.
When you apply capsaicin cream, gel, lotion, or ointment to the skin (topical use), it
may help relieve pain from:
You can put products that contain capsaicin on your skin up to 4 times a day. You may feel a
burning or itching sensation the first few times you use capsaicin, but this
will gradually decrease with each use. Wash your hands thoroughly after each
use to avoid getting capsaicin in your eyes or on other moist
mucous membranes, where it can cause a burning
sensation. Do not use capsaicin on areas of broken skin.
A high-dose skin patch is available by prescription (Qutenza). The patch is used to treat nerve pain from postherpetic neuralgia. It must be put on and removed by a doctor or nurse. The patch is left on the skin only for an hour or less, but the capsaicin continues to relieve pain after the patch is removed.
When you eat hot peppers or take
capsaicin as a dietary supplement, the capsaicin may improve your digestion by
increasing the digestive fluids in the stomach and by fighting bacteria that
could cause an infection. It may also help fight diarrhea caused by bacterial
Capsaicin acts as an
antioxidant, protecting the cells of the body from
damage by harmful molecules called
free radicals. Capsaicin also may help prevent
Capsaicin may also make
mucus thinner and help move it out of the lungs. It is
also thought to strengthen lung tissues and help to prevent or treat
Experts in the United States
generally consider capsaicin to be safe. But it can cause some unpleasant
effects, especially for those who are not used to it. Be careful when you cook
with or eat hot peppers. Begin with small amounts, and increase the amount as
you get used to it.
An allergic reaction to capsaicin is
possible. If you are just beginning to use capsaicin, either as fresh or
prepared food or in powder form, start with small amounts. If you use a topical
product that contains capsaicin, you should first apply it to a small area of skin to test for an
To reduce the burning sensation, remove the
seeds from the peppers before you eat or cook with them. Also, if you eat
bananas along with the peppers, you may reduce the burning sensation.
Don't let capsaicin come into contact with
your eyes and other moist mucous membranes. After you touch capsaicin (or hot
peppers), use vinegar or soap to wash your hands so you don't accidentally
spread capsaicin to your eyes, nose, or mouth. You can also use disposable
gloves to handle hot peppers or to apply topical products that contain capsaicin.
apply topical products that contain capsaicin to areas of broken skin.
The U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way
it regulates medicines. A dietary supplement can be sold with limited or no
research on how well it works.
Always tell your doctor if you are
using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary
supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to
forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary
supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or
When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the
Other Works Consulted
Murray MT (2013). Capsicum frutescens (cayenne pepper). In JE Pizzorno, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 633–637. St. Louis: Mosby.
Capsicum peppers (2009). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Current as ofMarch 3, 2017
Current as of:
March 3, 2017
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
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