Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum annuum) Herbal Monograph

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Traditional Uses

Cayenne was introduced into traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine as well as traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean medicines, respectively. In traditional Chinese medicine, cayenne is considered to have digestive stimulant action and is sometimes used to cause diaphoresis (5). In China and Japan, the tincture is used as an ointment externally to treat muscle pain and frostbite (6).

Active constituents

Cayenne pepper contains up to 1.5% capsaicinoids (pungent principles) including 0.11% capsaicin, 6,7-dihydrocapsaicin, nordihydrocapsaicin, homodihydrocapsaicin, and homocapsaicin; fixed oils ; carotenoid pigments including capsanthin, capsorubin, alpha- and beta-carotene, steroid glycosides, including capsicosides, vitamins A and C; trace of volatile oil (1,11, 12).

Modern Uses

  • Pain and Muscle spasms – In the official German Pharmacopeia cayenne is approved as a topical ointment for the relief of painful muscle spasms (7). In the United States, Pharmacopeia Cayenne was used as a carminative, stimulant, and rubefacient (1). Capsaicin, taken from Capsicum, is recognized by the U.S. FDA as a counterirritant for use in OTC topical analgesic drug products (8). For arthritis relief, capsaicin interferes with the pain of inflammatory joint disease when applied topically. It may block pain fibers by destroying substance P, which normally would mediate pain signals to the brain (10). Cayenne has been used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, neuralgia, lumbago, and chilblains.
  • Herpes Zoster and Shingles – Capsicum ointments containing 0.025% or 0.075% capsaicin, are used topically to treat shingles (herpes zoster). Many studies on topical preparations containing capsaicin have been documented. Human trials have investigated its use as a treatment for chronic post-herpetic neuralgia (9).
  • Gastric Ulcer – Capsaicin inhibits acid secretion, stimulates alkali and mucus secretion and particularly gastric mucosal blood flow which helps in prevention and healing of gastric ulcers. (13)
  • Weight loss – Cayenne has been shown to encourage weight loss. Three main areas of potential benefit for weight management were found: increased energy expenditure increased lipid oxidation and reduced appetite. (14) Findings suggest that daily consumption of capsaicinoids may contribute to weight management through reductions in energy intake. Subsequently, there may be potential for capsaicinoids to be used as long-term, natural weight-loss aids. (15) Capsaicin consumption 1 hour before low-intensity exercise is a valuable supplement for the treatment of individuals with hyperlipidemia and/or obesity because it improves fat burning. Capsinoid ingestion increases energy expenditure through the activation of brown adipose tissue in humans. (18)

Clinical studies

Cardiovascular benefits

The receptor for capsaicin is called the transient receptor potential vanilloid subtype 1 (TRPV1). TRPV1 is ubiquitously distributed in the brain, sensory nerves, dorsal root ganglia, bladder, gut, and blood vessels. Activation of TRPV1 leads to increased intracellular calcium signaling and, subsequently, various physiological effects. TRPV1 is well known for its prominent roles in inflammation, oxidation stress, and pain sensation. Recently, TRPV1 was found to play critical roles in cardiovascular function and metabolic homeostasis. (21)

Metabolic boosting

Capsaicin, the phytochemical responsible for the spiciness of peppers, has the potential to modulate metabolism via activation of transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) receptors, which are found not only on nociceptive sensory neurons but also in a range of other tissues. Clinically, ingestion of capsaicin-or its less stable non-pungent analog capsiate-has been shown to boost metabolic rate modestly. (16)

Blood sugar balancing

Capsaicin-containing chili supplementation regularly improved postprandial hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia as well as fasting lipid metabolic disorders in women. (17)

Cough suppression

Capsaicin powder taken orally decreased cough sensitivity and cough symptoms. (19)

Pain Relief

Topical creams with capsaicin are used to treat peripheral neuropathic pain. Following application to the skin, capsaicin causes enhanced sensitivity, followed by a period with reduced sensitivity and, after repeated applications, persistent desensitization. (20)

Side Effects

In rare cases, hypersensitivity reaction may occur (urticaria).


Ointment or cream: Containing <0.05% capsaicinoids in an emulsion base, applied to affected area.
Capsules containing cayenne pepper: Not more than 5gm daily
Tincture 1:10 (g/ml), 90% ethanol: applied locally or 1% in herbal formulation.
Warning: Cayenne preparations may irritate the mucous membranes even in very low doses potentially causing painful burning sensations. Avoid direct contact with the eyes.


Cayenne can be found in the following Ultimate Herbal Health products:

Brett Elliott  ®

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