Chili Pepper’s Painkilling Mechanism Uncovered

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Chili Pepper's Painkilling Mechanism Uncovered
Photo – Hans –

Chili peppers are one of the most commonly used spices in the world. The heat provided by chili peppers is the main reason why many add the spicy fruit to their meals – however, the substances responsible for this heat are also the factor behind chili pepper’s many medicinal properties.

Capsaicin is the chemical substance that causes burning, painful sensations to anyone who has bitten unknowingly into a red hot chili pepper. This compound has emerged as a popular pain reliever for over-the-counter and prescription medications.

One study conducted by researchers from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School offered findings as to how capsaicin works to calm painful nerves, muscles, and joints. The study opens new doors to the chemical mechanism behind chili pepper’s heat-inducing and pain-relieving activities.[1]

Though the calming effects of chili peppers are old news, the Rutgers study provided new findings on the role of capsaicin in activating a nerve mechanism to block pain signals. According to one of the study’s authors, Tibor Rohacs, their research gave insight into how capsaicin works as a local analgesic. [2]

Multiple factors account for the calming effects of capsaicin on the nerves. Rohacs and colleagues figured out the mechanism on how capsaicin desensitizes the nerve cells to the pain stimulus. They were also surprised by the very fast, very robust, and very long-lasting effects of capsaicin on the nerves.

Capsaicin delivers painkilling mechanism and also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions. Several studies have shown capsaicin’s promise for cancer treatment. According to an article published in Anticancer Research, capsaicin has the potential to alter the expression of several genes that lead to the development and growth of cancer cells. [3] The study explored molecular targets that stimulate the anticancer mechanism of capsaicin.

Other Reported Health Benefits Of Chili Peppers

Another interesting health benefit offered by capsaicin is weight loss. [4] The effectiveness of the compound for weight loss can be realized when added to our diet. How does capsaicin help fight obesity? [5] It decreases calorie intake, shrinks fat tissue, lowers blood fat levels, and fights fat buildup.

The promising pharmacological properties of capsaicin have found its way in the treatment of arthritis. Capsaicin was proven to be a safe and effective treatment for the inflammation and pain caused by arthritis. [6] Data from a study published in the May-June 1991 issue of Clinical Therapeutics confirmed the reduction in pain experienced by capsaicin-treated patients.

The Rutgers study was all in vitro, so the researchers need to continue in multiple directions until a human clinical trial is carried out. However, the results underline previous research on the potential painkilling powers of chili pepper. Now that science has data on the analgesic mechanism of capsaicin to this level of detail; there will be more platforms to explore capsaicin’s potential in other areas of medicine.


[1] Borbiro I et al. 2015. Science Signaling. Activation of TRPV1 channels inhibits mechanosensitive Piezo channel activity by depleting membrane phosphoinositides.

[2] Menendez L et al. 2004. Life Sciences. The analgesic effect induced by capsaicin is enhanced in inflammatory states.

[3] Clark R and Lee SH. 2016. Anticancer Research. Anticancer Properties of Capsaicin Against Human Cancer.

[4] Leung FW. 2014. Progress in Drug Research. Capsaicin as an anti-obesity drug.

[5] Lejeune MP et al. September 2003. The British Journal of Nutrition. Effect of capsaicin on substrate oxidation and weight maintenance after modest body-weight loss in human subjects.

[6] Deal CL. May 1991. Clinical Therapeutics. Treatment of arthritis with topical capsaicin: a double-blind trial.

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