Some athletes say that cayenne helps temporarily ease rheumatic pains and arthritis.
Topical preparations (containing the active ingredient capsaicin) have been reported to be mildly to moderately effective in clinical settings. The United States Food and Drug Administration approved capsaicin for use as a topical pain reliever in 1995. The Commission E (an expert committee established by the German government to evaluate the safety and efficacy of herbs and herb combinations sold in Germany) has also approved topical capsaicin use in adults and children for painful muscle spasms of the shoulder arm and spine.
Capsaicin ointment, applied four times daily over painful joints in the upper or lower limbs, reduces pain caused by osteoarthritis,1 and a plaster containing capsaicin applied to the low back for several hours per day provided relief from chronic low back pain in one study.2 Other uses of cayenne or capsaicin for sports and fitness have not been studied.
Besides causing a mild burning during the first few applications (or severe burning if accidentally placed in sensitive areas, such as the eyes), side effects are few with the use of capsaicin cream.3 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. Do not attempt to use capsaicin cream intra-nasally for headache treatment without professional guidance.
When consumed as food—one pepper per day for many years—cayenne may increase the risk of stomach cancer, according to one study.4 A different human study found that people who ate the most cayenne actually had lower rates of stomach cancer.5 Overall, the current scientific evidence is contradictory. Thus, the relationship between cayenne consumption and increased risk of stomach cancer remains unclear.6 Oral intake of even 1 ml of tincture three times per day can cause burning in the mouth and throat, and can cause the nose to run and eyes to water. People with ulcers, heartburn, or gastritis should use any cayenne-containing product cautiously as it may worsen their condition.
Certain medicines interact with this supplement.
Cayenne (Capsicum annuum, Capsicum frutescens) contains the potent chemical capsaicin, which acts on special nerves found in the stomach lining. In two rat studies, researchers reported that stimulation of these nerves by capsaicin might protect against the damage aspirin can cause to the stomach.7 , 8 In a study of 18 healthy human volunteers, a single dose of 600 mg aspirin taken after ingestion of 20 grams of chili pepper was found to cause less damage to the lining of the stomach and duodenum (part of the small intestine) than aspirin without chili pepper.9 However, cayenne may cause stomach irritation in some individuals with stomach inflammation (gastritis) or ulcers and should be used with caution.
Last Review: 07-22-2014
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