(NaturalNews) The cayenne pepper is the hot chili pepper of the Capsicum annuum plant, which is native to northern South America and southern North America. A nightshade fruit that is related to the bell pepper, jalapeno and paprika, cayenne peppers are often dried and ground into a powder and then used to prepare spicy meals. Many cultures also like to add them to cakes, chocolates and even beverages.
Despite their various uses in the kitchen, however, cayenne peppers are first and foremost a medicine. In fact, American Indians have been using cayenne peppers to treat numerous medical conditions for at least 9,000 years. Moreover, cayenne peppers have been extensively studied, and scientists now understand which compounds give them their significant healing properties.
Four reasons to love cayenne pepper
1.) Natural painkillers -- Cayenne peppers are rich in an active compound called capsaicin. This tasteless and odorless compound, which is found in all chili peppers and is responsible for their trademark heat, is a potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic, and is proven to relieve pain. For example, a study published in The Clinical Journal of Pain found that the pain relief provided by capsaicin for treating cluster headaches, itching, neck pain, psoriasis and other conditions was far greater than that provided by the placebo. Another study published in Clinical Therapeutics discovered that capsaicin cream provided "significantly more relief" to patients suffering from arthritis-related pain than the placebo, leading the researchers to conclude that "capsaicin cream is a safe and effective treatment for arthritis."
Scientists now understand that capsaicin is a great natural painkiller because it inhibits substance P, a neuropeptide that is associated with pain and inflammation. The hotter a chili, the more capsaicin it contains, and thus the greater its painkilling capacities. Since cayenne peppers are one of the hottest commercially available chilies around, they're a great natural alternative to allopathic painkillers like paracetamol and Nurofen.
2.) Cardiovascular support -- The capsaicin in cayenne peppers is also a vasodilator, which is a substance that causes blood vessels to dilate. This helps reduce plaque build-ups in the arteries, thus decreasing the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. According to the American Cancer Society, the capsaicin in cayenne peppers is also used to treat related conditions like menstrual cramps, stomach aches and ulcers, and indigestion.
3.) Increases metabolism and reduces blood sugar -- Research featured in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand found that women who consumed 5 grams of fresh Capsicum frutescens (which are included in the Capsicum annuum species) mixed into a glucose drink experienced a "significantly lower" rise in plasma glucose and a "significantly increased" metabolic rate compared to the control group which drank a regular glucose drink. This makes cayenne pepper a good food for diabetics or anyone else who wishes to avoid excess blood sugar. Moreover, this increase in metabolism might also explain why cayenne pepper is known to contribute to weight loss.
4.) Boosts immunity and vision -- Just one tablespoon of cayenne pepper contains almost half of our recommended daily intake of vitamin A. Vitamin A, which our bodies obtain through the pepper's impressive levels of carotenoids (especially beta-carotene, the carotenoid that gives the fruits their red color), is an essential antioxidant that provides our immune system with its first line of defense against invading pathogens. Vitamin A-rich foods like cayenne pepper can also prevent age-related macular degeneration and are even known to reverse deteriorating eyesight.
Organic, non-irradiated cayenne pepper powder is easily purchased online or in health food stores. Try mixing two teaspoons of it with apple cider vinegar and honey for the perfect morning detox drink!
About the author: Michael Ravensthorpe is an independent writer whose research interests include nutrition, alternative medicine, and bushcraft. He is the creator of the website, Spiritfoods, through which he promotes the world's healthiest foods.