the red pepper – healthy superfoods – by Dr. Alberto Parra


A little spice is always good for most foods, especially in certain cultures. According to historical records, Christopher Columbus brought back a few items upon his return from the New World naming for the first time this spicy fruit as “red pepper.” There are many types of red peppers, including chili peppers, paprika, tabasco peppers, cayenne peppers and African chilies. They are all traditionally used to treat toothaches, sore throats, stomach problems, parasitic infections and other health problems. It has been included in repellants, cosmetics, analgesics, and the list goes on. It’s not only a part of many traditional foods in America, but it has been accepted as a versatile agent with many health applications we will review in this article.

Red pepper for pain relief

A molecule called capsaicin is what gives red pepper a hot taste, and it is the same molecule that provides this fruit with a number of health applications. Capsaicin activates a receptor called vanilloid receptor or TRPV1, which is found in neurons and other tissues such as the stomach, bladder, and others. By activating this receptor, capsaicin in red pepper carry pain signals interpreted in the brain as hot or spicy taste. However, studies have found that capsaicin can paradoxically reduce pain sensation as well.

Applying capsaicin repeatedly or in a higher dose cause the vanilloid receptor to reduce its sensitivity. This desensitization of the neurons causes a state of analgesia instead of increasing pain sensation. Capsaicin can be used to manage postherpetic neuralgia, which is a type of pain originated by the neurons after herpes infection. It can be useful to treat pain after certain surgeries, but it is not often used as a topical agent in creams because it may cause coughing, sneezing, and an initial sensation of burning or stinging on the skin.

Impact of red peppers on obesity

One of the most suggestive effects of red pepper is related to overweight and obesity. Many studies show that consuming red pepper or capsaicin supplements can increase the metabolic rate by up to 25%. The metabolic rate is the energy your body burns by itself, not counting your daily dose of exercise, and increasing this number means your metabolism is faster and you burn more calories every day.

4 hours after consuming red pepper is enough time to potentiate your energy expenditure by increasing your thermogenesis, your body’s ability to turn calories into heat. This effect is possibly caused by a change in the sympathetic nervous system, which is activated and starts increasing the energy expenditure. Additionally, capsaicin in red peppers increases your satiety, which means that having a slightly spicy food you might feel less hungry and reduce your food intake by up to 10%. However, red peppers are not a magic cure for obesity; you will need to contribute with your diet and exercise if you want to see results faster.

Effects of red pepper on diabetes

The vanilloid receptor is probably involved in the regulation of blood sugar. This receptor is found in the pancreas, where insulin is synthesized and secreted, and everything seems to point out it has an important role in preventing insulin resistance and diabetes. In diabetic patients, consuming 30g of chili peppers a day can be enough to reduce the amount of insulin required to control their blood sugar. Similarly, many studies report that blood sugar is lower in patients who consume red pepper along with glucose compared to those who consume glucose alone.

In short, red pepper is an excellent food for diabetic people who are trying to control their weight and their blood sugar at the same time. But keep in mind this is a complementary measure and does not replace medical treatments or lifestyle changes your doctor may be advising for you.

Red pepper on the gastrointestinal tract

Studies about capsaicin on the digestive tract usually result in contradictory effects. For example, applying capsaicin to the small intestine causes pain, but 2.5 grams of red pepper powder every day improves dyspepsia and abdominal pain. The capsaicin receptor is found in a lot of neurons in the gastrointestinal tract and inhibits an inflammatory agent called nuclear factor ĸB.

Other health effects of red pepper
There are many other health applications currently in hot debate and ongoing investigation. For example, it may be used as an agent to treat hypertension because capsaicin stimulates neurons that produce vasodilator and diuretic agents which relax the arteries and increases urination. Capsaicin has also been found beneficial during cholera and Clostridium infections. Applying capsaicin to the mucosa and skin can reduce itching in renal disease patients and reduces migraine attacks when used as intranasal drops.

Even some bothering side effects of red peppers can be used for the benefit of particular patients. For example, it can be used to increase the coughing reflex in patients with tonsillitis and rhinitis and improves the swallowing reflex as well, which may be helpful in patients with a risk of aspiration pneumonia. One single molecule brings all of these effects attributed to red pepper. It is capsaicin, the one that gives red peppers a hot taste and currently under a lot of scientific research.

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