Feel the Burn! The Amazing Healing Properties of Hot Peppers
At a time when most of us are feeling cold, I thought I’d switch things up a bit. Rather than write about the welcome heat of the tropics, though, I thought I’d take a closer look at the heat that you can eat – hot peppers.
What prompted me to post about this medicinal fruit was a recent 2-hour bout with a cold. Yes, I did say “2-hour”. It started with a scratchy throat, then a sinus headache and a general feeling of exhaustion. At that point, my son suggested that we pull some frozen cayenne peppers – the overflow from last summer’s crop – out of the freezer and boil them. His theory was that the hot pepper “juice” would be a perfect elixir to put a stop to my downward-spiraling condition.
Not wanting to squelch his enthusiasm, I agreed and within minutes the entire house smelled like a hot sauce factory! The mere waft of heat that filled the air was enough to get my nose running and create some much-needed porosity in my nasal passages. Then, my dear son brought me a shot of this so-called “hot pepper potion.” I downed it readily, wanting to prove my belief in his theory.
Whoa! My eyes watered, my mouth and throat sizzled and my nose became clear! Totally clear! Not too surprising that this would work on the short-term, but the incredible fact is that the effects stood the test of time. I took a few sips of “hot pepper potion” every couple of hours throughout the day, and my “cold” left my body even faster than it arrived. I couldn’t believe it.
Now, realizing that the majority may not relate to our extreme tolerance for, and love of, hot or spicy foods, I’m certainly not going to suggest that “hot pepper potion” is for everyone. After all, this is a very intense way to administer the amazing healing properties of hot peppers. The good news is, you don’t always have to eat hot peppers to reap their health benefits. I’ll explain what I mean shortly. First I’ll provide a little bit of hot pepper history.
Some hot pepper history
The hot pepper, or chili pepper, as it is often called, is a member of the genus Capsicum. There are 1700 known varieties of hot peppers, most derived from Capsicum annuum, the source of cayenne and bell peppers, pimento, paprika and chili peppers. They are usually grown as an annual, reaching 3 feet tall, although in tropical regions they can grow to upwards of 6 feet.
Native to Central and South America, there is evidence that the cayenne pepper has been grown there and used as a cooking ingredient and medicinal herb for more than 9000 years. Mayans apparently used cayennes to treat infections, while Aztecs treated toothaches with them. Unfortunately, the rest of the world didn’t find out about cayennes until the 15th century, when Columbus brought hot pepper seeds back to Europe after his voyage in 1492. Then Vasco de Gama introduced them to the people of Africa and India shortly thereafter.
The Healing Properties of Hot Peppers
After many years and much research, today we know that the cayenne is a systemic stimulant, meaning it energizes all of the body’s physiological activities. For instance, not only does it help the circulatory and digestive systems by stimulating blood flow and strengthening the heartbeat and metabolism, but it will also lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
For a long time, I was under the false impression that hot peppers were bad for my digestive system. Not true! They actually provide relief from heartburn, prevent stomach ulcers by stimulating the stomach lining to secrete protective substances, and regulate blood sugar levels by helping the body break down carbohydrates more efficiently.
Feel the burn but lose the pain! Capsaicin and Substance P
And you know how painful it is to eat a hot pepper, right? Well, ironically, hot peppers actually relieve pain! Researchers have discovered that the active component in these peppers, capsaicin, reduces the amount of “Substance P” in your body. Substance P is a protein neurotransmitter found in your brain and spinal cord that is associated with inflammatory processes in the joints. In plain language, Substance P causes pain. Therefore, when there is less Substance P, there is less pain! So capsaicin can be used externally, usually in a cream, to treat cluster headaches, diabetic neuropathy, fibromyalgia, joint pain, arthritis, and even postherpetic neuralgia – that painful condition that may follow a case of Shingles. Wow. Who knew?!
Peppers are packed with nutrients
Although capsaicin may be the “star” of the show, it’s not the only thing that makes the hot pepper a medicinal powerhouse. Each pepper, though relatively small, is densely packed with a vast variety of nutrients including amino acids, calcium, Essential Fatty Acids, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C and E! Not surprising then that both my research and my personal experience confirmed that hot peppers ward off colds, sinus infections, and sore throats.
Hot Products (no pun intended!)
If your muscles or joints are hurting, you may want to pick up a product called Algosan with capsaicin along with several other anti-inflammatory ingredients. It’s available to you from my own online dispensary at a 15% client discount. Be sure to follow the directions on the package and don’t get it near your eyes!
If on the other hand, you suffer from sinus pain or congestion, I highly recommend “Sinol-M” nasal spray – it has never failed me! You can find several formulations of that in my online dispensary, including one specifically for children, one for cold and flu, and one for allergy symptoms.
Or, if you’d like to brave the most extreme route to hot-pepper-induced health, my son’s “Hot Pepper Potion” consists of fresh (or frozen) hot peppers, chopped up, then boiled in about one cup of water. You can either inhale the steam from that (cover your eyes!) or slowly sip on it.
If you like to live on less of an edge, the following recipe may be slightly less potent than our potion, though still quite effective, thanks to National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: (drink at the first sign of stuffiness or head cold or merely to warm up on a winter day)
- 1 c boiling water
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2-3 dashes of dried ground cayenne.
Stir well, sweeten to taste with honey or stevia.
Another amazing hot-pepper-containing remedy for colds and flu is called “fire cider” and is available online for purchase, or simply make your own fire cider! This heated drink typically contains onion, garlic, apple cider vinegar, ginger and cayenne pepper or some similar variation of those ingredients.
Safety Considerations When Using Hot Peppers
Oh – and just one more thing – use gloves when handling hot peppers or anything made with them. Applying hot pepper to skin may cause a rash (usually just irritation, not an allergic reaction) and burning, stinging or redness. All of this usually improves with repeated use, however if the rash gets worse over time, discontinue use. Do not apply hot pepper cream to broken skin.
Alternative Medicine, the Definitive Guide. Trivieri Jr., Larry and Anderson, John W. Celestial Arts, Berkeley. 2002
Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Third Edition, Balch, Phyllis A. and Balch, James F. Avery, New York. 2000
National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs, Johnson, Rebecca and Foster, Steven. National Geographic, Washington DC 2010
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