The hot pepper, a friend who wants you (a little) well

Canadian researchers are interested in the benefits of red pepper. In the form of a cream or directly by eating it, capsaicin can have many advantages.

Whatever its name, the red pepper always has its (great) effect. The one that can be called abanero, cayenne, jalapeno, poblano or bird is very hot in the mouth. The Scoville scale measures the intensity of heat. But beyond this purely taste aspect, this pepper could well have certain therapeutic advantages.

In Canada, researchers from the University of Montreal (UdeM) were interested in a particular compound: capsaicin. Contained in the inner wall of peppers, it is responsible for the burning sensation in the mouth. Indeed, the amount of capsaicin measures the strength of the red pepper.

A pain cream

Researchers from the University of Montreal point out that capsaicin, available in the form of a cream to be applied to the skin, helps relieve certain arthritis pain or the pain associated with postherpetic neuralgia – a frequent complication of shingles. Good to know: the cream tends to cause a burning sensation, local redness and inflammation upon application. “This may indeed seem paradoxical. Somehow we fight fire with fire“, emphasizes Réjean Couture, professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of Montreal and specialist in pain receptors.

Specifically, Prof. Couture explains that capsaicin activates a pain receptor located at the peripheral end of sensory neurons in the skin (fiber C). Once stimulated by an excess of capsaicin (thanks to the application of the cream), this nociceptor allows the C fiber to empty itself of all its neuromediators responsible for indicating pain to the brain. “In short, we hypersensitize the system to then desensitize it and temporarily soothe the pain caused by the shingles virus or by other types of neurogenic inflammation involving the C fibers.“, sums up Professor Couture.

Programmed cell death

It is also possible to use this molecule… by eating it. In this case, it is then recognized for its antioxidant, anticarcinogenic and antiobesogenic properties, explains Valérie Marcil, professor in the Department of Nutrition at UdeM. “First, capsaicin may influence the life cycle of cancer cells by promoting apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Often, this mechanism no longer functions normally in cancer cells. They survive and multiply, whereas they should have been destroyed by apoptosis. But capsaicin would have the virtue of participating in the destruction of some of them. Then, the molecule would have antiobesogenic properties, such as increasing energy expenditure and the feeling of satiety.“.

If the promise is interesting, it is not a panacea either, warns the researcher and other studies are necessary to confirm the beneficial effects in humans. “It’s like that for all nutrients. On a daily basis, we do not eat nutrients, but food. Also, food is not medicine. Their power must be put into perspective, since their real effects are often the result of a combination of factors“.

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