The active ingredient is a compound known as capsaicin.
Capsaicin works by reducing the amount of a chemical, “substance P,” that sends pain signals to the brain. Because of this ability, capsaicin creams/gels (typically in combination with other ingredients) are often used to reduce lower back pain, as well as the pain associated with conditions such as arthritis/rheumatism, shingles and peripheral neuropathy.
Capsaicin creams can also decrease the itching, redness and scaling associated with psoriasis.
In addition, cayenne and capsaicin are common ingredients in weight loss supplements. In truth, capsaicin has modest thermogenic effects and may provide a small boost in fat oxidation.
Although it’s no miracle, in combination with other ingredients (such as green tea extract), it could help curb appetite and increase satiety. Related compounds from sweet peppers, dubbed “capsinoids” may also have similar effects, although a recent study cast doubt on those claims.
Cayenne is also frequently recommended as a natural treatment for indigestion, although it’s perhaps not for everyone.
Cayenne, capsaicin and/or capsinoids are available in tinctures, capsules, tablets, fresh herb, liquids, ointments, nasal sprays, gels and creams. When used topically, capsaicin will burn slightly and should not be used near the eyes or mouth, or on broken skin.
The best form to use depends both on the condition being treated and on individual preference. Although cayenne is a commonly used spice, there is the potential for interactions with prescription drugs, including ACE inhibitors, antacids, blood thinners (warfarin and heparin) and—especially—theophylline when taken in larger, supplemental doses.
In addition, cayenne/capasicin supplements should not be used during pregnancy.
When taken internally, cayenne sometimes causes stomach pain or diarrhea. When used topically, it may burn or cause an allergic reaction.
To minimize the likelihood of experiencing side effects, follow the dosage recommendations on the label of the cayenne product you are using. Always start with a low dose and increase the amount as needed. If side effects occur, reduce the dosage or stop using the product.
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