Certainly most of us experienced the tearing eyes, the running nose and that relentless burn in the mouth after biting into a chili pepper. But despite succumbing to this fiery mess of sweat, tears and mucus, we’ve spent centuries going back for more. And fortunately, research proves this to be on the smarter side of foolish.
Dating back to the 1494, the physician accompanying Christopher Columbus (the first European to encounter the chili pepper in the Carribean) began using chili peppers as medical treatments for diarrhea, cramps, flatulence, seasickness, malarial fevers, and reduction in blood clotting tendencies (1).
More recently, research is focusing on this spices’ ability to act as an anti-inflammatory agent and decrease blood clots. Researchers in Thailand looked into the medical records of specific countries and correlated higher red chili peppers consumption with a lower incidence of blood clots.
Largely responsible for this is the compound capsaicin, a flavorless, odorless chemical concentrated in the veins of chiles and peppers. In addition to its ability to break down blood clots, capsaicin proved a relief from arthritis, acne, and motion sickness. Capsaicin is also associated with many cures that include lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, warding off strokes and heart attacks, speeding up metabolism, treating colds and fevers, preventing cancer, pain control and ulcers. Capsicum is commonly used to buffer pain from other ailments, including varicose veins, menstrual cramps, respiratory conditions such as asthma (2).
Nutritionally, both sweet and hot peppers (jalapeno, cayenne, hot cherry, and banana being the most well known) offer large amounts of vitamin C. Interestingly, ounce for ounce, peppers have two and a half times more vitamin C than oranges. They are also good sources of vitamin A, potassium and contain some iron and protein. Additionally they are very low in fat and calories: 22 calories in three and a half ounces (3).
As a further nutritional benefit, peppery seasonings are a tastebud- stimulating alternative to salt, the abuse of which can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure (4).
Healing powers of chili peppers:
The ancient Aztecs used chili peppers in a thick combination of hot water and honey to soothe coughs, colds and as a tonic for general well being.
Arthritis reflief: direct rubbing of a cut chili pepper on the joints aids in mobility and acts as a natural anti-inflamatory.
- Rubbing chili peppers on the temples of migraine and headache sufferers for relief.
- Capsicum increases endorphins and other mood elevating, good feeling substances, thus, it helps fight depression and relieves stress.
- Hot chilies slow down the growth of H. pylori, the bacteria that causes certain kinds of ulcers, without killing the beneficial E. coli, found naturally in the bowels.
- Chilies have been shown to have a positive effect on an overactive bladder by blocking contractions that cause unpredictable loss of urine.
- A natural remedy for herpes virus 1 and 2: Cut a chili pepper open and rub it on the the infection. Capsicum ointment is now available in the form of a prescription drug. It can be applied directly to the skin to aid in controlling the pain associated with herpes.
- Capsicum is a natural muscle relaxant and pain reliever. Again, a hot chili pepper cut and placed directly on the skin will do the trick. There are also a number of creams that have capsicum in them to soothe and heal painful muscles.