Monday, November 14, 2011

The “Hot” News About Cayenne Supplements

We recently received an inquiry about Cayenne Pepper supplements. Cayenne pepper is a member of the Capsicum family of vegetables, which also includes red peppers, bell peppers, pimento and paprika. Capsicum adds color, pungency and aroma to foods. The level of pungency (heat) in peppers depends mainly on the concentration of capsaicinoids. Chili peppers and red peppers have higher capsaicinoid levels, while paprika has lower levels. Spanish paprika, made from pimentos, has almost no heat and is used primarily for coloring. Cayenne pepper is made by drying, and then grinding, the hotter chili peppers and red peppers into a powder.

When we consume foods containing higher levels of hot peppers, the capsaicin causes a chemical messenger “substance P”, to artificially release. Substance P in our nerve cells is responsible for transmitting pain signals. This artificial release is transmitted to our nervous system, and this is how we feel the burning pain in our mouth from the heat. Over time and repeated intake of hot, spicy foods, the level of substance P is depleted in our mouth, so people who eat a lot of hot foods regularly actually do build up a gradual tolerance to the heat.

The same “tolerance” that allows frequent hot pepper eaters to tolerate the heat more easily than those who only occasionally have hotter foods is the basis for over-the-counter capsicum creams that can be topically applied to the body. Caution should be exercised when using these creams though, as the same “hot” sensation we get when eating peppers or prepping hot peppers for food dishes also applies to these creams. They can be painful, particularly if they hit any open cuts or mucous membrane. There’s good clinical evidence that Capsicum topically applied in a plaster or cream is helpful in reducing lower back pain. There has also been research findings that capsicum plasters combined with acupuncture can help relieve post-operative nausea and vomiting.

When used orally, Capsicum may cause gastrointestinal irritation, mouth and throat irritation, damaged taste buds with reduced ability to taste foods, fullness, flatulence, gas, indigestion, diarrhea, ulcer aggravation and stomach pain. Even with all these side effects, oral Capsicum supplements have been suggested as a cure-all for everything from weight loss, sore throat, gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes and skin conditions. However, the science for Capsicum in these areas is lacking. Capsicum supplements may also impact blood-thinners, antidepressants, insulin levels and blood pressure. They can cause allergic reactions in those who are allergic to bell peppers, paprika or other peppers.

For all of these reasons, we’ll continue to enjoy all kinds of peppers in our food, and yes, cayenne pepper in some of our dishes, but might shy away from taking Capsicum supplements.

For more information about Cooper Complete vitamins and supplements, please call 888.393.2221 or visit

Jill Turner is VP Operations for Cooper Concepts, the division that markets Cooper Complete nutritional supplements. Email ( or call Jill at 972-560-3262 with your questions and comments regarding supplements.