Cayenne pepper is a cultivar of the pungent red chilli "Capsicum annuum" from the family of Solanaceae, also known as the nightshade or potato family. With its origins believed to be in Cayenne, French Guiana, this spice has become a globally available ingredient, finding its place in various cuisines. Cayenne can be found in many varieties and colours, such as fiery red, mellow yellow, and intriguing purple.
This article provides a comprehensive overview of cayenne pepper, covering its nutritional profile, the health benefits of including it in the diet, ways to incorporate it into meals, recommended consumption amounts, and possible side effects. It serves as a valuable guide to help you make informed decisions about integrating cayenne pepper into your culinary routine, enabling you to maximize its nutritional advantages while being mindful of any potential risks.
Health benefits of cayenne pepper
- As an antioxidant
One of the remarkable aspects of cayenne pepper is its rich composition of medicinal biologically active compounds. These compounds offer a host of health-promoting effects. During the early stages of ripening, cayenne peppers exhibit the highest antioxidant activity, making them potent sources of antioxidants.1,4 Antioxidants are crucial for neutralizing harmful free radicals in the body, thereby protecting cells from oxidative damage and reducing the risk of chronic diseases
- Reducing the risk of developing alzheimer's disease
Additionally, cayenne peppers have been found to inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which plays a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease.2 By inhibiting this enzyme, cayenne peppers help prevent the degradation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is essential for proper cognitive function and memory
- Stimulates blood flow
One notable characteristic of cayenne pepper is its ability to act as a rubefacient. When applied topically, cayenne pepper causes the skin to become red by stimulating the dilation of small blood vessels known as capillaries, increasing blood flow to the area. This effect is primarily attributed to the presence of capsaicin, a bioactive compound found in cayenne pepper. Capsaicin is also responsible for the heat sensation associated with consuming spicy foods.
Cayenne pepper also offers benefits beyond pain relief. It can be utilized during cold weather due to its warming properties. By incorporating a small amount of cayenne pepper powder into your socks, the spice can help keep your feet warm by stimulating circulation and increasing heat production. This simple yet effective technique can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with cold extremities during the winter months
- As a pain reliever
In the field of pain management, cayenne pepper has demonstrated its efficacy. Capsaicin, present in cayenne pepper, has been extensively studied for its analgesic properties. It impacts nociceptors, the nerve endings responsible for detecting painful stimuli, effectively reducing nerve pain and acting as a local painkiller. This makes capsaicin a valuable component in topical creams and ointments for conditions such as shingles, muscle strains, joint pains, and rheumatoid arthritis.3 Moreover, its ability to alleviate pain can provide relief for individuals suffering from chronic conditions
- As a beauty ingredient
Furthermore, cayenne pepper has found its place in beauty routines. The increased blood flow stimulated by cayenne pepper can be beneficial for the skin.7 It has been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce the appearance of dark spots, acne scars, and wrinkles, and promote overall skin health. Incorporating cayenne pepper into natural skincare remedies can harness its potential for achieving a radiant and youthful complexion
- Improves cardiovascular health
In terms of cardiovascular health, the bioactive compounds in cayenne pepper are believed to promote well-being by dilating blood vessels, cleansing mucus membranes, and reducing cholesterol levels. Capsaicin, in particular, has been found to make bad cholesterol (LDL) more resistant to oxidation, thus reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.6, By inhibiting the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, capsaicin helps to maintain healthy blood vessels and protect against the development of atherosclerosis
- Improves digestion and gastrointestinal health
Cayenne pepper offers several benefits for digestion and gastrointestinal health. The compound capsaicin stimulates the production of digestive enzymes and increases gastric acid secretion, aiding in the breakdown of food and nutrient absorption. Cayenne pepper's carminative properties can relieve gas and bloating by promoting intestinal movement. Its selective antimicrobial activity may help combat certain gastrointestinal infections. Additionally, cayenne pepper supports blood circulation to the digestive organs and can increase the metabolic rate. Cayenne pepper is also a potential aid in weight management. The compound capsaicin has been found to suppress appetite and increase feelings of fullness, which can contribute to reduced calorie intake
- Improves nutritional health
Cayenne pepper is not only known for its fiery heat but also for its impressive nutrient profile. This spice incorporates a range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and trace elements, which are vital for our overall health and well-being. Consuming cayenne pepper can help combat micronutrient deficiencies and promote optimal nutrition
Nutrients we can get from cayenne pepper
Micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, play a crucial role in our metabolism and immune system functioning. They serve as cofactors, assisting enzymes in breaking down and absorbing proteins, lipids (fats), carbohydrates (sugars), and amino acids (protein synthesis) to release energy. Furthermore, these micronutrients support the structural integrity of enzymes, allowing them to perform their specific functions effectively.
The main vitamins present in cayenne pepper are:5
- Vitamin A: This vitamin plays a critical role in maintaining healthy vision, supporting immune function, and promoting the growth and development of various tissues in the body
- Vitamin B6: This vitamin is involved in numerous metabolic processes, including the synthesis of neurotransmitters and the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
- Vitamin C: This vitamin is renowned for its immune-boosting properties. It acts as a powerful antioxidant, helps in collagen synthesis, and aids in the absorption of iron
- Vitamin E: This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. It also plays a role in immune function, cell signalling, and maintaining healthy skin
- Vitamin K: This vitamin is important for blood clotting and bone health
The main minerals present in cayenne pepper are:5
- Iron: necessary to produce red blood cells and the transportation of oxygen throughout the body
- Magnesium: crucial for muscle and nerve function, energy production, and bone health
- Manganese: involved in various enzymatic reactions
- Potassium: essential for maintaining proper fluid balance, regulating blood pressure, and supporting muscle and nerve function
Moreover, cayenne pepper contains antioxidants and phytochemicals, which have been linked to numerous health benefits.1 Phytochemicals are plant compounds that possess protective properties and contribute to the vibrant colours of fruits and vegetables. The antioxidants found in cayenne pepper help combat oxidative stress and protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
Ways to include cayenne pepper in our diet
Cayenne pepper can be included in our diet in dried, fresh, or processed forms. It can be used as a powder to season soups, stews, and snacks, or fresh cayenne peppers can be chopped and added to various dishes. Processed forms like sauces, pastes, and seasonings offer convenience and can be incorporated into recipes. Additionally, enhancing the genetics of cayenne pepper involves breeding and cultivation to develop varieties with specific traits.
How much is enough?
Since humans are unable to produce micronutrients, we must rely on obtaining these essential compounds directly from our diets at appropriate levels. Cayenne pepper, with its abundance of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, presents itself as a beneficial option to supplement our diet. However, when it comes to consuming cayenne pepper, it is important to remember that a little goes a long way. To put it into perspective, just one cayenne pepper contains approximately 50% of the recommended daily quantity of vitamin A and 72% of vitamin C. This demonstrates the high concentration of these vitamins in cayenne pepper and the potential benefits of including it in our meals.
Furthermore, even small portions of cayenne pepper can contribute significantly to our nutrient intake. For instance, a 100 g portion of raw cayenne pepper exceeds the recommended daily values (RDVs) for adults and children over the age of four, which is approximately 400 µg of folic acid, 60 mg of vitamin C, and 5000 IU of vitamin A. This reinforces the notion that cayenne pepper packs a nutritional punch in a relatively small amount.5
However, it's important to note that individual dietary needs may vary, and it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or nutritionist to determine the specific nutrient requirements for your body.
Side effects and how much to consume
While cayenne pepper offers numerous health benefits, it is essential to be aware of potential side effects and consume it in moderation. Some individuals may experience certain discomforts when consuming cayenne pepper, such as a burning sensation or pain in the digestive system. These effects can be attributed to the compound capsaicin found in cayenne pepper, which gives it its spicy nature. It is advisable to be mindful of one's tolerance and gradually introduce cayenne pepper into meals.
Due to the potential intensity of cayenne pepper, it is generally not recommended for young children, especially those under the age of two, as their digestive systems are still developing. However, as children grow older and their tolerance increases, cayenne pepper can be gradually introduced into their meals to harness its nutritional advantages.
Like any other spicy food, cayenne pepper may cause heartburn or exacerbate existing gastrointestinal conditions. If you have a sensitive stomach or are prone to heartburn, it is advisable to consume cayenne pepper in moderation or avoid it altogether.
It is worth noting that cayenne pepper can cause irritation or burning if it comes into contact with the eyes or hands. Therefore, caution should be exercised when handling cayenne pepper, and it is important to avoid touching the eyes after handling the spice. It is advisable to wash hands thoroughly after handling cayenne pepper to prevent any potential irritation or discomfort.
The bioactive compounds present in cayenne pepper, such as micronutrients and trace elements, offer a wide range of health benefits that make it a promising ingredient for various treatments. These compounds stimulate digestion, promote gastrointestinal health and exhibit anti-inflammatory effects, supporting overall health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Overall, cayenne pepper shows promise as a beneficial ingredient for various treatments and preventive measures, but individual responses may vary, and consulting a healthcare professional is advisable.
- Azlan A, Sultana S, Huei CS, Razman MR. Antioxidant, Anti-Obesity, Nutritional and Other Beneficial Effects of Different Chili Pepper: A Review. Molecules [Internet]. 2022 Jan 28;27(3):898. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules27030898
- Nantakornsuttanan. Anti-cholinesterase inhibitory activities of different varieties of chili peppers extracts. International Food Research Journal [Internet]. 2016;23(5):1953–9. Available from: http://www.ifrj.upm.edu.my/23%20(05)%202016/(16).pdf
- Basith S, Cui M, Hong S, Choi S. Harnessing the Therapeutic Potential of Capsaicin and Its Analogues in Pain and Other Diseases. Molecules [Internet]. 2016 Jul 23;21(8):966. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules21080966
- Srilaong. Physiological and phytochemical changes in Cayenne pepper [Internet]. Vol. 44, Thai Journal of Agricultural Science. 2011. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291865797_Physiological_and_phytochemicalchanges_in_cayenne_pepper
- Olatunji TL, Afolayan AJ. The suitability of chili pepper (Capsicum annuumL.) for alleviating human micronutrient dietary deficiencies: A review. Food Science and Nutrition [Internet]. 2018 Oct 8;6(8):2239–51. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1002/fsn3.790
- Jiang Z, Qu H, Lin G, Shi D, Chen K, Gao Z. Lipid-lowering efficacy of the capsaicin in patients with metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Front Nutr [Internet]. 2022 Mar 1 [cited 2023 Oct 13];9:812294. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8923259/
- Wu Q, Bai P, Guo H, Guo MSS, Xia Y, Xia Y, et al. Capsaicin, a phytochemical from chili pepper, alleviates the ultraviolet irradiation-induced decline of collagen in dermal fibroblast via blocking the generation of reactive oxygen species. Front Pharmacol [Internet]. 2022 Mar 14 [cited 2023 Oct 13];13:872912. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8967157/