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Incredible Capsaicin

Of peppers and hot sauce: Incredible Capsaicin

One recent night over dinner, my family had a "heated" discussion about hot sauce—these things happen when you are sheltering at home!

Although I lived in Mexico for a few years and learned my way around hot peppers (habaneros, poblanos, green and red jalapeños, Jamaica bell and ghost peppers), I was never a big fan of hot sauce, which always seemed to change or cover up the flavor of foods. I have always preferred the hot pepper itself just for the heat...although I will admit that after some “out of body” experiences eating hot peppers, I have moderated my desire for that heat. This raised the question about whether the heat was healthy, so I came to the defense of the Cayenne pepper.

Cayenne peppers have been around for centuries, on every continent, and have been used for medicinal purposes. Certainly, peppers themselves contain significant vitamins. The medicinal effects of cayenne peppers, however, come from the capsaicin in the pepper, which also provides the heat. The medicinal effects are significant enough that you should discuss the use of capsaicin with your doctor, if you are on certain blood pressure medications and blood thinners.

Capsaicin has been shown to:

  1. Reduce food intake by reducing the hunger hormone ghrelin, while at the same time causing satiety, the feeling of being full and for a longer period of time.

  2. Reduce blood pressure, although we are not quite sure how. It is thought that the chemical relaxes blood vessels and improves circulation, possibly by increasing a chemical in the body called nitric oxide.

  3. Improve digestion by increasing the quantity of enzymes released by the stomach

There is also some evidence that capsaicin may aid the immune system in the intestines.

Contrary to popular belief, capsaicin does not cause ulcers (although, eat enough and it may inflame your colon and hemorrhoids), rather it may protect against ulcers in low dose.

You may already know that capsaicin is used as a topical pain reliever in ointments, but did you know that, when ingested it causes the release of a pain relieving substance in the body, as well?

There is some evidence that capsaicin can improve certain skin conditions, and may slow the growth of certain tumors, but these studies are inconclusive, and you certainly would not want to apply capsaicin to open sores.

Whatever your preference, sauce or the real thing, add to fresh organic vegetables, fish, and meats for enhanced flavor and health. For one way to use, check out my recent recipe on Facebook for shrimp pineapple tacos that incorporates a healthy dose of cayenne pepper.

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