Written by Team Nutrisense. Reviewed by Heather Davis MS, RDN, LDN
Chili peppers are popular for their ability to improve the taste of any meal with their hot flavor. However, chili peppers are more than just a little bit of heat. Chili peppers are mainly used as a spice and can be cooked or powdered and dried.
The most valuable characteristic of chili peppers is the compound capsaicin. Capsaicin is the primary compound in chili peppers that gives the peppers their distinct taste and a number of health benefits.
Let’s explore 10 of those amazing health benefits.
1. Improves Digestive Health and Metabolism
One of the biggest advantages of capsaicin is its contribution to gut health and weight loss. Contrary to popular belief, chili peppers can actually be an anti-irritant to your stomach and a great way to treat stomach ulcers.
Secondly, chili peppers, especially in its powder form, are rich in antioxidants and other compounds that can soothe other digestive issues, like upset stomachs, intestinal gas, diarrhea, and cramps. Peppers are able to accomplish this because they stimulate gastric juices and work against the acidity in your digestive tract.
Thirdly, chili peppers can accelerate your metabolism. By speeding up your metabolism, you curb your cravings and improve the rate at which you burn fat. In general, it is thought that the consumption of chili peppers along with other healthy lifestyle practices can improve weight loss.
2. Alleviates Migraines
Capsaicin from chili peppers has also shown potential in treating headaches and migraines. According to a study by the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, 18 patients with headache diagnoses were treated with an intranasal capsaicin.
As a result, 13 patients had full relief. Majority of the other patients experienced some relief, and only one patient had no relief. The researchers found that the capsaicin desensitizes the trigeminal nerve and decreases the Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide–both of which are responsible for creating migraine pain.
3. May Reduce Risks of Cancer
Chili peppers also present a potential natural remedy for fighting cancer. According to the American Association for Cancer Research, the capsaicin and antioxidants in chili peppers can kill cancer cells in leukemia and prostate cancer. This is largely due to the high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of chili peppers.
For example, in the case of prostate cancer, capsaicin reduces the growth of prostate cancer cells by triggering a depletion of the primary types of cancer cell lines. Similar effects can be found in breast, Pancreatic, and bladder cancer.
4. Fights Fungal Infections, Colds, and the Flu
The characteristic red color of chili peppers is an indication that it is rich in beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A. Vitamin A is key in maintaining a healthy respiratory, intestinal, and urinary system. Also, vitamin A and vitamin C in the chili peppers are vital in building up your immunity against infections and illnesses.
If you suffer from congestion or allergies, a capsaicin nasal spray can help relieve your symptoms. Moreover, capsaicin has a number of antibacterial properties that can fight chronic sinus infections.
If you are suffering from a high fever, hot chili peppers can not only relieve the pain, but they can also stimulate the immune system to fight off the virus.
Chili peppers can also be used for their anti-fungal properties. Specifically, it can kill food pathogens, bacteria like H. pylori and cure a number of inflammatory bowel diseases.
5. Provides Joint Pain Relief
In addition to being a natural source of pain relief for headaches and migraines, chili peppers can be used to reduce joint pain. Essentially, you can apply the chili pepper to the skin to reduce the presence of chemical P which is the compound responsible for transmitting pain messages to the brain.
Capsaicin binds with pain receptors and induces a burning sensation that may desensitize your pain receptors over time. In this way, capsaicin acts as a pain reliever. Typically, it can be used to treat shingles, joint pain, and HIV neuropathy.
6. Fights Inflammation
Another one of capsaicin’s valuable characteristics is that it inhibits substance P, which is a neuropeptide that is responsible for inflammatory processes. As such, capsaicin is thought to be a potential treatment for a number of sensory nerve disorders, such as arthritis pain, diabetic neuropathy, and psoriasis.
An animal study found that animals who were treated with a substance that caused inflammatory arthritis responded well to a diet high in capsaicin. Thanks to the diet, the animals experienced a delayed development of arthritis and a significant decrease in inflammation throughout their bodies.
7. Supports Cardiovascular Health
Chili peppers can also be a great, natural way to support your cardiovascular system and prevent heart disease. Chili peppers are high in potassium, which is a mineral with a number of functions in the human body.
Potassium combined with folate can reduce your chances of developing heart disease. Moreover, potassium can help relax your blood vessels, which makes blood flow much easier in your body.
Chili peppers also contain riboflavin and niacin. The latter is responsible for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and in turn, lower the risk for heart disease. Chili peppers can also protect fats in your blood against free radicals.
For example, one study found that eating fresh chili increased the resistance of blood fats to oxidation, which is free radical damage to your triglycerides and cholesterol levels.
8. Decrease Risks of Type 2 Diabetes
In addition to maintaining your heart health, chili peppers can reduce the risk of developing high blood levels of insulin, which is a common symptom of Type 2 Diabetes.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a number of Australian scientists discovered that a meal containing chili pepper can result in the right amount of insulin to reduce blood sugar levels.
This is a particularly useful fact for individuals with high BMIs or those who suffer from obesity. Lastly, remember that chili peppers are high in antioxidants, carotenoids, and vitamin C. These contribute greatly to insulin regulation as well.
9. May Improve Cognitive Functions
One of the key ways of maintaining strong cognitive performance is a proper amount of oxygen and iron. Fortunately, chili peppers are rich in iron. This leads to an increase in the blood flow and hemoglobin production in your brain. In turn, chili peppers can help improve your cognitive performance. Additionally, they can also decrease your chances of developing cognitive disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
10. May Improve Longevity
A study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences discovered that people who consume spicy food have a better chance of having a longer life. In other words, common spices have the potential to increase a person’s chance to live a longer, healthy life.
Over the course of seven years, the researchers found that individuals who ate spicy foods three to seven times a week have a smaller chance of experiencing cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses.
This can be credited to capsaicin’s ability to reduce inflammation, clear the respiratory tract, and overall reduce the development of lifelong diseases.
All that being said, the next time you put together a meal, consider adding a dash of spice. As you can see, with chili peppers, a little can go a long way. So, a slight burn on your tongue or a teary eye might be worth its amazing health benefits.
If you are looking for a natural way to deal with some of your health issues, chili peppers are the way to go.
Download the full issue of the May-June 2023 Healthy Options News Digest here.