My first teacher of iridology and herbal medicine, Dr. John Christopher, had such a passion for the many benefits of cayenne pepper, that he wrote an entire book on it! One of his students, Dr Richard Schulze, often quote’s Dr. Christopher in saying “If you master only one herb in your life, master cayenne pepper. It is more powerful than any other.”
The following article was written by Naturopathy student, Sonal Varsani, in honour of this wonderful plant medicine. Enjoy!
Many regard cayenne pepper as a ‘miracle herb,’ and for good reason. In addition to being a tasty addition to many foods, it provides several health benefits. Let’s take a look at what a couple of other renowned herbalists have to say about this wonderful spice:(1)
“I have cured with cayenne pepper cases of rheumatism that had been for years most distressing… Though severe on the tissue to which applied, cayenne is so diffusive that it does not long derange the circulation, but on the contrary, equalizes it. Thus it is not only stimulant, but antispasmodic, increases sweating, anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, and restorative.” – Jethro Kloss (1863-1923), Herbalist
“I had hardening of the arteries, during my 20 and 30 year span, to a point that it was very severe. No insurance company at this time, would even take me for a $1,000 policy. So you can tell how bad of a condition I was in. I was quite concerned about it, and started using cayenne. I worked up to a teaspoon three times a day, and I continued on from the time I was thirty-five and am still using it. It was amazing! By the time I was forty-five years of age, ten years after I had started using cayenne, a group wanted me to have a $100,000 policy to insure them on a business deal we were working out. I went for the examination. Being this large of a policy, the insurance company required two medical doctors, each to give two physicals at various times (being four times to have physicals with these two doctors). I took the examination and one medical doctor when he got through, said, “Well, this is astounding. I see your age is forty-five years, but you have the venous structure of a teenage boy.” He said, “This is excellent,” and he gave me a clean bill of health. I went to the other doctor and on his second examination he did the blood pressure test on my arm. He pumped his equipment up five different times and my arm was getting irritated by it, and I was getting a little perturbed, and I said, “What’s the matter, doesn’t your equipment work?” “Oh yes, it always has up till now, but I keep looking at your chart and it says you are 45 years of age and yet your systolic over your diastolic is absolutely perfect. I cannot comprehend it.” I said, “That’s correct. It is perfect.” And he also gave me a clean bill of health. So I passed at 45 years of age for a $100,000 policy with a good blood pressure showing, thanks to the cayenne. I have been told by medical doctors, that because of my arthritis, hardening of arteries, stomach ulcers and some auto accidents that banged me up pretty badly, that I couldn’t live past my 40th year. Yet, at 45 years I was pronounced in good condition. This, to me, was one of my biggest sales points on cayenne. If it could help me, it could help anybody. I have seen it used so many times over the years with such success, that I feel that it is one of our great herbs.” – Dr. John R. Christopher (1909-1983), Herbalist and naturopath
Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum), belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae). This plant family include tomatoes, aubergine (eggplant) and potatoes. Cayenne contains a key component called capsaicin, owing to the hot and spicy flavour of this pepper. Although it not fully known where cayenne originated from, it is thought to have come from Latin America. Cayenne is a very common spice used in a variety of cuisines, either in its natural, dried or powdered form.
Aside from role as food and seasoning, cayenne – especially capsaicin – has been proven to provide numerous potential health benefits:
Substance P is a chemical that is involved in transmitting pain signals from the body’s extremities to the brain. When there is less substance P, the pain signals can no longer reach the brain, resulting in pain relief. Capsaicin has the ability to reduce levels of substance P.(4) Capsaicin is also known to relieve symptoms of peripheral neuropathy – pain and discomfort in the body’s extremities due to nerve damage (e.g. in diabetes, following surgery or an infection).(5)
The pain-management benefits of capsaicin have already began to be accepted and utilised by mainstream medicine. Capsaicin is prescribed as a topical analgesic cream in the treatment of post-herpetic neuralgia, which is long-lasting nerve pain that results following the occurrence of shingles. It is also used in some diabetics who experience severe nerve pain in their feet, as well as easing pain from arthritic conditions. Moreover, capsaicin is used in a stronger dosage in a patch form, where it is used to help people suffering from peripheral nerve pain.
Capsaicin is considered to promote blood circulation and help prevent the formation of blood clots, improving overall heart health.(6,7) Studies also indicate that capsaicin helps reduce fat build-up in arteries, and improve vascular function.(8,9)
Interestingly, as well as preventing blood clots, capsaicin is also thought to stimulate blood clotting when needed. Famed herbalist, Dr. John R Christopher, spoke of a story where a young boy was accidentally shot in the abdomen and had excessive bleeding. His neighbour was present and had given him a tablespoon of cayenne in water while they waited for emergency services. Cayenne in this case was remarkably able to slow down the bleeding in his abdomen and give him enough time to reach the hospital. The surgeons were astonished the find to minimal internal bleeding upon his arrival at the hospital.(10)
Also, in Dr John R Christopher’s book, School of Natural Healing, he mentions that if a patient is able to drink a glass of extra warm cayenne water, “…by the count of ten the bleeding will stop. Instead of all the pressure being centralised, it is equalised and the clotting becomes more rapid.” Of course it would be inhumane to replicate something similar to this in clinical research! Nonetheless, one study was able to demonstrate that capsaicin was able to stop very minor bleeding that was induced in the lining of stomachs of humans, pointing to a potential therapeutic role in protecting the lining of the stomach.(11)
As part of its multitude of heart and circulation benefits, capsaicin is also believed to help reduce blood pressure.(12,13)
Within the field of herbalism and naturopathy, Dr. John R Christopher, is particularly legendary for his efforts in stopping heart attacks. He stated that he would be able to instantly stop a heart attack if he could get the patient to drink a glass of warm cayenne water, “A teaspoon of cayenne should bring the patient out of the heart attack.”(14)
Moreover, Jenn Artero, a nurse based in Guam, described how cayenne is used by her family as a first aid remedy following a stroke as it is able to act quickly to reduce blood pressure and stimulate circulation.15
Researchers believe that capsaicin, within chilli peppers, may be able to protect against heart conditions and reduce the risk of death from heart and vascular disease.(16-18)
Capsaicin has been shown to stimulate salivary glands to produce saliva,(19) stimulate the production of digestive fluid and help the stomach ward off infections, as well as improve the general circulation so that important enzymes can reach the digestive tract.(20,21)
It’s a common misconception that cayenne pepper causes stomach ulcers. Yes, excessive spicy foods may contribute to the development of, or worsen stomach ulcers but capsaicin is not at fault here. Studies have discovered that capsaicin assists in gut health rather than cause harm as it inhibits acid secretion, stimulates alkali and mucus secretions and promotes blood flow in the lining of the stomach, which may be able to help both prevent and heal stomach ulcers.(22)
A couple of studies point to a potential role of topical capsaicin in treatment of psoriasis. One trial showed a significant decrease in skin scaling and redness in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis.(23) These findings are also reflected in another trial where patients where administered capsaicin cream. These patients reported a significant decrease in skin thickness and itching, as well as reduced scaling and redness.(24)
Similar to nerve pain, substance P is also believed to be involved in manifestation of migraine pain due to its role in transmitting pain signals to the brain. In one trial, topical capsaicin was applied to the scalp of migraine sufferers, both in the absence of and during a migraine attack, and the majority of participants reported over a 50% reduction in pain.(25)
Numerous studies indicate that capsaicin can help enhance metabolism, suppress hunger, as well as modulate blood glucose levels.(26-30)
It is therefore apparent that cayenne pepper may be beneficial in weight loss due to capsaicin’s ability to reduce food cravings and promote satiety when taken with meals.(31,32)
Cayenne pepper contains beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), vitamin C, vitamin E, as well as many other antioxidants that support the immune system. Antioxidants can also help to prevent inflammation in the body. Studies have demonstrated cayenne’s anti-inflammatory properties.(33,34) Cayenne pepper is also thought to assist in breaking up and clearing mucus in colds and flus. It is a great source of vitamin A, contributing to eye and skin health, as well as boosting the body’s immunity alongside vitamin C.
As well as improving blood circulation, cayenne is packed with alkaline-rich substances and antioxidants making it a great herb to include in detox regimes. It is also able to assist the digestive system with eliminating toxins from of the body.(35)
In 2006, cayenne pepper hit the media as a key ingredient within the Master Cleanse when singer and actress Beyonce announced during an interview with Oprah, that she had uses the Master Cleanse diet to shed 20 pounds of weight in 2 weeks in preparation for her role in the movie, Dreamgirls. This propelled a cascade of people across the globe, including other celebrities, to attempt the Master Cleanse in order to lose weight. Unfortunately, many people to this day aren’t aware of its original purpose as detailed in Stanley Burrough’s book, ‘The Master Cleanser’. The Master Cleanse drink comprises fresh lemon juice, pure maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water. Stanley’s intention was that this blend could help rid the body of toxins and promote healing. Getting rid of any excess fat is of course an added benefit, but not the primary goal. The main benefit of the Master Cleanse is to assist in detoxifying the body, rather than a quick-fix weight loss solution.
Cayenne pepper may have a therapeutic role in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Studies have found that capsaicin is beneficial in the treatment of breast, colon, lung and prostate cancer.(36)
Similarly, cayenne pepper contains a chemical called CAY-1 which is known as a saponin. This molecule was found to be active against 16 different fungal strains, including Candida, the fungus responsible for oral and vaginal thrush.(37)
Interestingly, cayenne pepper may have potential to help people who suffer from hair loss. One study showed that administration of capsaicin and isoflavone promoted hair growth by increasing the production of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor-I in mice and humans with alopecia.(38)
It’s evident that cayenne pepper is much more than an common household ingredient used to flavour to foods. Cayenne pepper is a powerful herb that serves various functions to promote the health of the human body – many of which are either not yet known or fully known. Its therefore exciting to think about what else come from this miracle herb!
Please note that the information above is not medical advice and is intended for educational and informational purposes only. Please consult your doctor before taking any supplements or making any dietary changes based on the information provided above, especially if you are already taking any prescribed and/or over-the-counter medication.