Spray hot pepper up your nose? Sure, it may sting. But it also may stop your migraine pain. The spray has a special formula of capsaicin, a chemical in the part of the pepper that holds the seeds. It numbs your brain's trigeminal nerve, where some migraines and severe headaches start. Seven out of 10 people in a study who had cluster, tension, and other headaches had total relief for a while. All said the sharp tingle was worth it.
Pop a pepper, and you might live longer. One large study showed that adults who ate at least one fresh or dried hot red chili pepper a month for almost 20 years lowered their chances of death by 13%. Researchers aren't sure why, but they think some credit may be due to the peppers' nutrients and their power to fight inflammation and obesity.
Got a sneezy, runny, or stopped-up nose that your doctor calls non-allergic rhinitis? That's when your nose runs constantly but it's not from a cold, allergies, or cigarette smoke. If so, then a whiff of capsaicin may help calm your symptoms. It'll smart at first, and may even seem to worsen your misery. But capsaicin will kick in soon after. Your stuffiness might not bother you for a few months.
The total-body flush you sense when you eat a hot pepper is more than a feeling. Capsaicin -- the chemical behind the zing -- amps up the rate at which your whole body heats up. It also activates a sensory neuron called TRPV1, which helps keep fat from building up and controls your appetite. This metabolism-quickening combo might help you lose weight. Researchers hope to apply this knowledge to curb weight gain.
Capsaicin triggers a heat sensation to nerve cells that normally yell: "Pain!" The message to your brain reads: "Hot!" This signal-switch trick has been used for centuries to help control pain.
Capsaicin is the super ingredient in many creams, lotions, and patches that bring on heat to quickly quash pain. In one study, it cut discomfort from arthritis and fibromyalgia by half in just a few weeks. Results from other studies were less convincing, suggesting capsaicin works best when coupled with another pain reliever. Either way, you need to reapply it often.
In the lab, capsaicin seems to kill cells linked to more than 40 types of cancer, including the colon, liver, lung, and pancreatic cancers and leukemia. The spicy chemical changes how some genes linked with cancer cells act and even stops them from growing. But other research suggests capsaicin itself may be linked to cancer. More studies are needed.
Hot peppers are natural antimicrobials. That means they kill germs and other microorganisms that can spoil canned or packaged foods. Manufacturers are testing to see if chili pepper extracts could be a better choice than artificial preservatives.
Fiery peppers pack major health perks. In terms of vitamin C, they beat oranges 3 to 1. They're also stuffed with vitamins A, B, and E. Some studies suggest capsaicin acts as an antioxidant to protect your cells and helps tamp down inflammation.
Chile is Spanish for pepper. In Mexico, a chile can be any kind of pepper, even mild or sweet. But almost anywhere else, chile or chili means hot. Varieties of hot pepper include Anaheim, cayenne, habanero, jalapeno, paprika, Tabasco, and some bell peppers. If you see a scary name like Ghost, Scorpion, or Reaper, it means beware.
Hot peppers have their own rankings. The Scoville heat scale rates the capsaicin level based on how much sugar water it takes to neutralize the heat. It ranges from 0 to 1,641,183 Scoville heat units (SHU). The top score is for the Carolina Reaper, the hottest pepper on earth. Buying tips: Dried peppers are hotter than fresh. The thinner the stem, usually the hotter the pepper.
Super-spicy snacks are scorching the snack scene. But too much hot pepper can give you belly pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or a burning feeling in your gut. Even kids are ending up in the ER after too much munching. A safer hack to kick up your flavor is to sprinkle a little hot pepper on popcorn or sweet potato fries.
A dash of peppers can go on just about any dish. Keep a bag of frozen chopped or sliced peppers on standby to add instant color and flavor to any meal. Dice fresh peppers to dress up pizza and pasta. You can also grill or roast them for a change of taste. Be sure to wear rubber gloves when handling superhot peppers like jalapeno and serrano. Remove the seeds to tone down the temp.
You'll know right away if you have a brush with the hot stuff. It can even trigger your asthma if you inhale it. If you eat a real flamer, skip the water and take small sips of milk, or reach for the ice cream or cottage cheese. Water doesn't dissolve capsaicin, but milk fat does. If you don't do dairy, eat a piece of bread or other starchy food. If it gets on your skin or in your eyes, flush well with warm water.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
- ChemMatters: "Muy Caliente!"
- National Gardening Association: "Edible of the Month: Hot Peppers," "Pepper Types," "Some Like It Hot."
- Arthritis Foundation: "Supplement Guide: Capsaicin."
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Ask the Doctor: How Does Hot Pepper Cream Work to Relieve Pain?"
- American Institute for Cancer Research: "Some Like It Hot."
- New Mexico State University: "Know Your Chile Peppers."
- Practical Neurology: "Migraine Spray Aims to Reduce Headache Pain With Capsaicin."
- Journal of Herbs, Spices & Medicinal Plants: "Nutritional and Medical Importance of Red Pepper (Capsicum spp.)."
- European Journal of Physiology: "Structure and Function of TRPV1."
- Bioscience Reports: "Dietary Capsaicin and Its Anti-Obesity Potency: From Mechanism to Clinical Implications."
- Physiology & Behavior: "The Effects of Hedonically Acceptable Red Pepper Doses on Thermogenesis and Appetite," "Some Like it Hot: Testosterone Predicts Laboratory Eating Behavior of Spicy Food."
- Cleveland Clinic: "What Hot Spice Can Speed Your Metabolism?"
- International Journal of Cancer Research and Treatment: "Anticancer Properties of Capsaicin Against Human Cancer."
- Chinese Medical Journal: "High Spicy Food Intake and Risk of Cancer: A Meta-analysis of Case-control Studies."
- PLoS One : "The Association of Hot Red Chili Pepper Consumption and Mortality: A Large Population-Based Cohort Study."
- Uisahak: "Medieval European Medicine and Asian Spices."
- Guinness World Records: "Hottest Chilli Pepper."
- National Capital Poison Center: "Capsaicin: When the 'Chili' is Too Hot."
- St. Louis Children’s Hospital: “The Worst Junk Foods For Your Kids."
- American Institute for Cancer Research: "Some Like It Hot."
- Biotechnic & Histochemistry: "Effects of Capsaicin on Testis Ghrelin Expression in Mice."
- University of the District of Columbia Center for Nutrition, Diet and Heath: "Peppers."
- Journal of Infectious Diseases & Therapy: "Antimicrobial Properties of Chili Pepper."
- Current Allergy and Asthma Reports: "Capsaicin for Rhinitis."
- Journal of Ethnopharmacology: "Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of Capsicum baccatum: From traditional use to scientific approach."