Capsaicin is the chemical that makes some peppers spicy. It also stops mammals from grinding up the seeds with their molars -- unless, say, a mammal happens to have acquired a taste for heat. It's difficult to be human.
On the one hand it's refreshing for a plant to have such an obvious defense mechanism; if you're offered a Bentley for the price of a beater, you'll be worried if there's not something clearly repellent about it.
On the other hand, capsaicin is a neurotoxin -- meaning, of course, that it attacks nerves. I don't know if that's scary or obvious; if capsaicin just attacks nerves along the digestive tract, then its effect is essentially a downregulation of the body's capsaicin sensitivity -- the tolerance people build toward hot peppers. I'm concerned that capsaicin acts elsewhere. I can't seem to find anything about ingested capsaicin killing off brain cells, but it will kill off afferent neurons, which transmit sensory information to the CNS. I'm concerned because a mechanism involved -- an influx of Ca2+ into the neuron across the affected ion channel -- sounds suspiciously like excitotoxicity.
Does anybody know whether spicy foods are safe? On a practical level, I'm afraid moderation is no longer an option for me because my tolerance is so high (habaneros no longer register as hot).
asked byMelmoth_the_Wanderer (146)
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on July 27, 2010
at 06:38 PM
Capsaicin is said by many to kill intestinal parasites. I've heard it said that there is a correlation between capsaicin intake of human populations and the amount of parasites present in that same area. Such that tropical cultures tend eat a lot more hot spicy food than say inuits. I'm not sure how true that is, but it makes logical sense at least and fits with my general observations. It may be that in the old days, any bad things about capsaicin intake were well counterbalanced by the benefits of decreased intestinal parasites.
Interestingly, there is a huge difference amongst various people as to their ability to tolerate/like capsaicin intake. I suspect this may be another case of partial evolution amonng some populations compared to others. THose who like capsaicin might be better evolved to tolerate it as well. Of course, now that most of us do not have problems with parasites, the benefits (other than taste enjoyment for some) of capsaicin are probably no longer relevent. Plus, anything that burns your butt on the way out might not really be such a good thing either.
Mostly, I think this is another case of the jury is still out on this one. I don't think many scientists have yet bothered to study it much. Maybe those who like capsaicin are not eager to find out if it is bad for you and those who don't like it don't care because they don't plan to ingest it anyway. Plus there is probably not a lot of grant money available for such studies either. -Eva
on July 28, 2010
at 06:52 AM
Garrett Smith's WAPF journal article on nightshades has a section devoted to capsaicin. Here are some excerpts:
"The active ingredient in pepper spray is capsaicin. It can shut down the lungs???this is why some people have died from pepper spray. Asthmatics would do well to avoid capsaicin in general. They actually use capsaicin in animal studies to stimulate something very much like an asthma attack."
"Capsaicin makes your nerves release almost all the substance P they have... Substance P is necessary for proper healing. The brain gets a signal from substance P telling it that something is hurt and needs to be fixed. So when you have diabetics using capsaicin cream for their neuropathy, they feel better???the pain signal is gone???but they are inhibiting the healing process."
"Capsaicin receptors have been found in arthritic joints. When they inject capsaicin into mouse knee joints, it reduces blood flow. That???s a bad thing. Blood is what heals us. When neonatal rats were given capsaicin, their immune markers were depressed for ninety days."
And, I think the most damning:
"In humans, increased consumption of peppers is associated with an increase risk of nasopharyngeal carcinoma and stomach cancer. Researchers found seventeen times (!) the risk of stomach cancer in people who self-rated themselves as high consumers of peppers. In people who had tissue biopsies of colon polyps, dysplasia and adenocarcinoma, researchers couldn???t find any substance P in those biopsies. Where would it have gone? What they found was the presence of capsaicin receptors instead."
Personally, I never liked the feeling of spicy peppers setting my mouth on fire, and from that offense alone, it seems pretty likely to me that these guys really don't want to be eaten. Yes, I know all kinds of plants don't want to be eaten and manufacture defensive compounds to prove it, but none actually causes me immediate discomfort in the way spicy peppers do, so I tend to think they're in a class of their own.
on July 28, 2010
at 01:41 AM
Capsaicin almost certainly provides an selective advantage to the plants, because it means their seeds are less likely to be eaten by mammals, and more likely by birds, which are not irritated by capsaicin.
I call spicy as the defense mechanism, or the equivalent to gluten lectins etc.
As far as benefit to us. Studies swing both ways heavily. I enjoy the taste, it quells hunger, and don't notice adverse affects
I'm curious to learn more, to know if the anti-inflammatory effects are accurate, as inflammation is a huge flag for me.
This is kind of scary....
Capsaicin is being used in an analgesic agent in the treatment of painful disorders, causing long-term loss of responsiveness because it kills off the nociceptor, or it destroys the peripheral terminals.
What kind of long term effects does this have? What are the drawbacks?
Substance P, shows how they affect Pain...but again... long term, is that good or bad to not feel pain? it is harder to react to stimuli(which are there for a reason) if we do not have the reaction at all...
Substance P'. This is the chemical that may lead to the desensitisation of your reaction to hot peppers, i.e. the more you eat hot peppers, the less the effect they have on you. Substance P is a neurotransmitter, discovered in 1931 by Swedish scientists, that is thought to transmit pain signals, and has other functions as well. It is one of three tachykinin peptides found in our bodies and acts at a specific receptor protein, the NK1 receptor. As well as being found in nerve cells, substance P can be found in the brain, spinal cord and intestines.
Other benefits I'd love to see confirmed
Inhibiting prostate cancer growth
PMS Relief. Feed her something spicy, quick!
- Further Reading.
I leave you with a Video. http://youtu.be/j9DwA_VZDno
I put that @%&T on Everything. And until proven to be bad for me, will continue to do so.
on January 08, 2018
at 11:15 AM
I know this is a really old article, but fwiw:
It is written in this article that capsaicin is a neurotoxin ... so that means it sits right there next to MSG (which is also a neurotoxin)? Seriously?
on March 25, 2013
at 08:43 AM
I am on this page because I work for a paramilitary organization that is very much into SERE training (learning to resist interrogation/torture at all costs). We are testing some cutting-edge methods but we can't change the fact that everyone has a breaking point. Unless...something can permanently reduce the human pain threshold, creating super soldiers! Capsaicin has almost no side effects and seems to be able to do this to the nerves it encounters, without making them completely numb. Meaning, just because you eat hot peppers doesn't mean you can't feel it when you're getting your teeth pulled. It's a long term, gradual solution.
I take oral cayenne pills 3-6 times a day as a naturopathic treatment for a bleeding problem. It works AMAZINGLY and does what my prescription cannot, with no noticeable side effects. I'm about to scrap the prescription altogether and just use Capsaicin.
I think people should stop being dogmatic about medicine and conduct their own experiments sometimes. Do whatever works, especially if the substance in question has been proven harmless through human use over centuries. There may be some unforeseen effects, but if entire cultures and societies thrive despite them, it's not a big deal.
Recently, in a SERE training simulation, concentrated capsaicin cream was used to make me think I was on fire. The interrogator had cut off my hair and was burning it while I was blindfolded to reproduce the smell of burning flesh. Creative psychological technique. It hurt so much that I was convinced! But later on in the simulation, injury to the Capsaicin-affected areas hurt less. The interrogator assumed they would hurt more because they had been irritated. His pharmacological miscalculation was helpful to me but I was thinking, "OMG, he must have burned me so bad that the nerves don't work! He's not supposed to do that in a simulation!!!"
That got me thinking about the military application. It could be applied daily all over the body with a few exceptions, such as eyes and orifices, however subdermal Substance P would still be there, and the problem is, the enemy would find out about our methods and know where to inflict pain that we would not be immune to.
What we really want is a way to dilute Substance P in the brain itself, so that the pain threshold of the entire nervous system is evenly increased. I have talked to a few medical professionals and they imply that Capsaicin does not do this, however they don't seem to know quite what they're talking about. I think I will run some experiments. Give some subjects capsaicin pills and some placebo and test the response to pain, first while the Capsaicin is active in their bodies, and second after 30 days of taking it and 10 days without. Or something like that.
Being completely impervious to pain is dangerous, but Capsaicin is not going to do that to you. If you increase your pain threshold with a substance, you would know to respond to small amounts of pain for your own safety. There will still be an indicator that is greater or lesser compared to the stimuli, it will just be more subtle, and you would have to learn your body's new language and adjust your response.
on December 13, 2010
at 05:52 AM
Ive heard that Aztecs (mexican indians) consume jalapenios to kill AMEBAS, so the consumption was more for health than taste.
on December 07, 2010
at 02:53 PM
I like tabasco on my nerve damage. You can bet our fellow old Earthers sat around daring each other to eat a hot pepper and laughing at each other.
on December 07, 2010
at 02:35 PM
my question is My taste change. I Love jalapinos and hot sauce. About a month ago It gives me an unplesant taste and feeling in my toung. It is not like the hot make you sweat feeling just unplesant feeling and sensation. Cant figure it out.
Any one Have a Idea??