JUDD JONES: Hot Stuff!
Ok, if you are like me, you love fresh jalapeños, habaneros, thai peppers and some of you may even dive into the smoking hot flames of the Carolina Reaper or Trinidad Moruga Scorpion peppers.
What makes these vegetables of burning desire so exciting is their healthy attributes?
The compound that makes peppers so medicinal is capsaicin.
What is capsaicin and why is it healthy?
Capsaicin is a molecular compound found in many types of peppers. Capsaicin are found in various concentrations across pepper varieties and even in different levels of the same peppers harvested from crop to crop. Many people have purchased jalapeños at the market just to be disappointed to find they lack heat and flavor while others have found the opposite; the heat is turned on too high on a particular batch of peppers.
The human body’s reaction to capsaicin is one that is a little deceiving. The molecular compound that makes up capsaicin binds itself in our bodies to a receptor known as TRPV1. This receptor is the mechanism that tells our body we are feeling the heat. Our brain takes this signal and registers the pain and/or discomfort of the perceived heat, even though it’s a false positive from the capsaicin compound reacting with our receptor.
Capsaicin has been a valued plant-based medicine dating back to pre-Columbian times. Indigenous people have used capsaicin for everything from treating colds to a gargle for a sore throat to using it as an antiseptic and even as a stimulant to fight fatigue. One of the most common ancient uses for capsaicin was to support a healthy digestive tract. In Chinese medicine, ginger is also used for this purpose and the compound found in ginger, known as gingerol, has a very similar molecular structure which triggers the same receptors as capsaicin.
A question often asked, does natural plant-based capsaicin have proven medical benefits for our health? The answer is yes, there is an extensive and well-documented body of research supporting the health benefits of capsaicin. Many health care providers promote the use of capsaicin-based creams as a topical for pain relief and come in both over-the-counter and prescription strength.
Keep in mind that there are two forms of capsaicin. There is naturally occurring capsaicin that comes from plants and synthetic capsaicin known as nonivamide. It is important to understand the distinction between the two capsaicins with the natural capsaicin used for human internal consumption and the synthetic form used in external creams, for example. Natural plant-based capsaicin potency and cost can vary widely, making it economically difficult to use in large-scale manufacturing which makes synthetic capsaicin much more feasible for this use.
Capsaicin is currently used in both alternative medicines and in the modern medical field to treat a broad range of health issues. One of the most common uses for capsaicin is for treatment of pain as a topical. Other uses for capsaicin runs from weight loss to new therapies to fight cancer.
One way the capsaicin molecule works for treating medical issues in the human body is when binding to the TRPV1 receptor. It triggers the brain to cause a mild inflammatory response promoting cell repair in particular areas.
There is ongoing medical research underway with capsaicin to fully understand the potential for healing and use as a medical treatment.
Here are a few health benefits reviewed where capsaicin may be helpful:
1. Pain relief for people who have chronic arthritis and joint pain.
2. Controlling symptoms of digestive disorders such as IBS, colitis and Crohn’s.
3. Studies are looking at capsaicin as treatment for prostate and breast cancer.
4. Capsaicin has had some success with controlling specific types of chronic headaches.
By far, the best way to get your capsaicin benefits is from its natural plant-based form, the pepper. Not only does the capsaicin molecule give almost all but the bell peppers their spiciness, it makes these wonderful vegetables medicine since peppers are also full of vitamin D, vitamin C, potassium, and other great nutrients. The spicier the pepper, then other benefits come into play like reduced blood pressure, increased metabolism, helps with digestion and blood sugar regulation.
If you’re a foodie who loves the heat from peppers and enjoys being a hot mess from eating spicy food laced with fresh peppers, be comforted in the knowledge it tastes great and it is also medicinal for your health.
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Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.