Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne Pepper: Overview

Cayenne is a hot pepper which has had a long history of use in herbology.  Its active ingredient is capsaicin.  When taken internally it can warm the body, raise metabolism, improve weak digestion and increase circulation.

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A whole host of hot peppers with the scientific names Capsicum frutescens or Capsicum annuum have become well known to us as cayenne, red, chili, or tabasco peppers.


Capsicum fruits are a rich source of both vitamin A and C. The external use of capsicum fruit powder is "Approved" by the German Commission E for reducing pain.

Function; Why it is Recommended

The component of capsicum that gives its unique hot flavor is called capsaicin.  Interestingly, while powders of this spicy fruit are extremely irritating to mucous membranes (it is cayenne that is used to make "pepper spray"), capsaicin-containing ointments are now being used to treat pain topically.  It is thought to work by a combination of desensitizing the nerves, mild analgesic effects and anti-inflammatory processes.

Oral doses of capsicum have been used to stimulate energy, relieve inflammation, and for various digestive complaints (although it is not recommended for ulcers).


When used topically in prepared products standardized for capsaicin activity (0.025-0.075%), it temporarily depletes substance P, required for pain signal transmission.  The cream is typically applied to the painful area(s) tid – qid.

As with anything applied to the skin, some people may have an allergic reaction to the cream, so the first application should be to a very small area of skin.  When using cayenne, wash your hands before touching your eyes.  Use cayenne only on unbroken skin; if irritation occurs, discontinue use.

It sometimes takes more than a day or two for the benefit to kick in, which is when the burning sensation stops.  Therefore, spending a little more time building up a tolerance to the burning sensation might be one way to make the discomfort a bit more bearable.

It takes something with true detergent action to get this material off your skin – a mild baby shampoo or dish liquid is your best bet – and a wipe-down with rubbing alcohol won't hurt either.  If you can tolerate it on your skin for at least 15 minutes you will get some benefit even if you have to wash it off later.

Cayenne often contains 40,000 heat units per capsule of 450mg.  A typical dose for internal use is 1-2 capsules (tincture 5-15 drops) 2 or 3 times daily before meals.

Side-Effects; Counter-Indicators and Warnings

Besides causing a mild burning for the first few applications (or severe burning if accidentally placed in sensitive areas, such as the eyes), there are no side-effects from use of the capsaicin cream.

Very high intake of cayenne internally may inflame ulcers instead of treating them, but this amount is difficult to achieve with sensible intake.

People with ulcers, heartburn or gastritis should use any cayenne-containing product cautiously as it may worsen their condition.  It is interesting to note that ulcers have been treated with cayenne.

Cayenne Pepper can help with the following:


Cold Hands and Feet

In cold climates, cayenne powder can be used topically as well as internally.  One-eighth of a teaspoon sprinkled into each shoe and/or glove acts to help the body generate heat.  Water-soluble components in cayenne dilate capillaries in the skin surface, producing an immediate sensation of heat.  Within 15 minutes, oil-soluble compounds reach deeper tissues, generating warmth for hours.


Hydrochloric Acid Deficiency

Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne, is believed to assist digestion by stimulating the flow of both salvia and stomach secretions.  One or two capsules of cayenne pepper taken before meals stimulates hunger also.

Dyspepsia / Poor Digestion

Although a few sources have recommended cayenne pepper as a potential treatment for dyspepsia, gastritis and even peptic ulcers, most modern herbal texts suggest avoiding the herb for persons with these conditions.  A small clinical trial suggests that cayenne may be beneficial in some persons with functional dyspepsia.  Approximately 850mg of cayenne powder in a capsule was given 3 times per day just before meals (0.7mg capsaicin per gram). [NEJM 2002;346: pp.947-48]


Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

Capsaicin used topically may benefit sufferers of postherpetic neuralgia.


Cayenne may have some supportive activity as an antimicrobial to help control infections such as sinusitis.

Chronic / Hidden Infection

Cayenne may have some benefit as an antimicrobial to help control infections in general.



Cluster Headaches

Capsaicin cream has a significant success rate reported from one study where three applications (in a liquid form) per day were placed in the nose on the affected side.  A significant downside must be that cayenne pepper in the nose has to hurt!



Topically for pain control only.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Topically for pain control only.

Nervous System

Trigeminal Neuralgia / Facial Pain

Capsaicin is not considered a standard treatment for trigeminal neuralgia although at least one article in the literature indicates that it may be useful.  In one trial, an ointment containing capsaicin was applied over the painful area three times a day.  Six of 12 patients had complete pain relief, 4 patients reported a decrease in pain, and 2 patients reported no benefit. [Anesthesia and Analgesia 74: pp.375-7, 1992]

Capsaicin has been used to treat atypical facial pain, especially when a specific pain "trigger point" (a place which, if touched, causes or exacerbates facial pain) is involved.  Capsaicin is applied directly to this "trigger point" several times daily.  If the trigger point is inside the mouth, a plastic dental splint is used to apply the capsaicin cream.  If on the face, it is topically applied.  In some cases, pain reduction only occurs after several weeks of application.  There is anecdotal evidence that a course of capsaicin treatment can result in long-term pain remission for some patients with atypical facial pain.

Organ Health

Diabetes Type II

Cayenne used topically may benefit diabetic neuropathy.



Capsaicin, cayenne pepper's major active component, induces long-lasting desensitization of airway linings to various mechanical and chemical irritants.  This effect is probably due to capsaicin-induced depletion of substance P in the respiratory tract nerves.  The respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts contain neurons which have large numbers of substance P receptors.  Depletion of substance P may be desirable in asthma.


Cayenne may have some supportive activity as an antimicrobial to help control infections such as pneumonia.



In a double blind study, application of a capsaicin cream to the skin helped relieve both the itching and the skin lesions in people with psoriasis.

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Cayenne Pepper can help prevent the following:



Cayenne reduces platelet aggregation (makes the blood less likely to clot) and thus may reduce the risk of clotting strokes.

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May be useful: may help with; may help prevent
May be useful:
may help with; may help prevent
Moderately useful: often helps with
Moderately useful:
often helps with
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