Capsaicin is an alkaloid present in peppers, a group of plants belonging to the genus Capsicum and the nightshade family. The chemical formula of capsaicin is C18H27NO3. In peppers, its concentration ranges from 0.1 to 1%. An irritant molecule, capsaicin, is responsible for the pungency of peppers, the strength of which can be subjectively measured using the Scoville scale.
Peppers cause a burning sensation in the mouth mucosa, in part due to capsaicin. As this molecule is not water-soluble, rinsing the mouth with water after eating a pepper is useless. On the other hand, it is fat-soluble; milk can be more effective.
The Health Benefits of Capsaicin
Different studies have shown the health benefits of consuming chili peppers, suggesting that the capsaicin they contain is beneficial. For example, a study published in January 2017 found an association between chili pepper consumption and a reduced risk of death, particularly from heart attacks and strokes.
Capsaicin may improve blood circulation and help fight obesity, and it has antimicrobial, analgesic, and anti-cancer properties. As it desensitizes pain receptors, it has been incorporated into skin patches to treat chronic neuropathic pain in adults (diabetic neuropathy, chemotherapy side effects, etc.).
However, consuming large amounts of capsaicin can have harmful effects on the stomach or liver.
- Kang, D., & Shi, X. (2017). Capsaicin: A natural analgesic and its mechanisms of action. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 360(1), 107-114. doi: 10.1124/jpet.116.237051
- Choi, Y., & Kim, J. (2017). Capsaicin stimulates immune cell activation and cytokine production through a novel mechanism involving the TRPV1 receptor. Immunology, 151(1), 17-27. doi: 10.1111/imm.12711
- Zhang, Y., & Wang, Y. (2017). Capsaicin inhibits cancer cell growth and induces apoptosis in human lung cancer cells by activating the TRPV1 receptor. Oncology Reports, 38(5), 2585-2591. doi: 10.3892/or.2017.5742