Common names: Capsaicin, capsicum

Originally from South America, the cayenne plant has spread across the globe both as a food and as a medicine. Cayenne is very closely related to bell peppers, jalapeņos, paprika, and other similar peppers. The fruit is used.

The potent, hot fruit of cayenne has been used as medicine for centuries. It was considered helpful for various conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, including stomachaches, cramping pains, and gas. Cayenne was frequently used to treat diseases of the circulatory system. It is still traditionally used in herbal medicine as a circulatory tonic (a substance believed to improve circulation). 

Rubbed on the skin, cayenne is a traditional, as well as modern, remedy for rheumatic pains and arthritis due to what is termed a counterirritant effect. A counterirritant is something that causes irritation to a tissue to which it is applied, thus distracting from the original irritation (such as joint pain in the case of arthritis).

Active constituents of Cayenne

Cayenne contains a resinous and pungent substance known as capsaicin. This chemical relieves pain and itching by acting on sensory nerves. Capsaicin temporarily stimulates release of various neurotransmitters from these nerves, leading to their depletion. Without the neurotransmitters, pain signals can no longer be sent. The effect is temporary. Capsaicin and other constituents in cayenne have been shown to have several other actions, including reducing platelet stickiness and acting as antioxidants. Numerous double blind studies have proven topically applied capsaicin creams are helpful for a range of conditions, including nerve pain in diabetes (diabetic neuropathy), postsurgical pain, psoriasis, muscle pain due to fibromyalgia, nerve pain after shingles (postherpetic neuralgia), osteoarthritis pain, and rheumatoid arthritis pain.

With the aid of a health-care professional knowledgeable in nutritional medicine, capsaicin administered via the nose can also be a useful therapy for cluster headaches. This is supported by double blind studies. Weaker scientific support exists for the use of capsaicin for migraines.

How much Cayenne is usually taken?

Creams containing 0.025–0.075% capsaicin are generally used. A burning sensation may occur the first several times the cream is applied; however, this should gradually decrease with each use. The hands must be carefully and thoroughly washed after use, or gloves should be worn, to prevent the cream from accidentally reaching the eyes, nose, or mouth, which would cause a burning sensation. Do not apply the cream to areas of broken skin. A cayenne tincture can be used in the amount of 0.3–1 ml three times daily. An infusion can be made by pouring a cup of boiling water onto 1/2–1 tsp of cayenne powder and let set for 10 minutes. A teaspoon of this infusion can be mixed with water and drunk three to four times daily.

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