Capsicum (peppers): Health benefits and nutrition

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All chili peppers and bell peppers belong to the genus Capsicum. People around the world use Capiscum in traditional medicine, and preliminary research suggests it may have value in Western medicine. The main active ingredient in many varieties of chili peppers is capsaicin, which is responsible for their characteristic hot […]

All chili peppers and bell peppers belong to the genus Capsicum. People around the world use Capiscum in traditional medicine, and preliminary research suggests it may have value in Western medicine.

The main active ingredient in many varieties of chili peppers is capsaicin, which is responsible for their characteristic hot flavor, or pungency. Capsaicin and other Capsicum compounds have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Studies indicate Capsicum, including capsaicin, may help reduce pain and lower the risk of metabolic syndrome and cancer. Research also implies it may reduce the risk of death, as well as fight bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics.

Keep reading to learn more about the nutritional content and health benefits of Capsicum.

Capsicum is a plant genus in the botanical family Soanaceae that comprises all chili and bell peppers, ranging from sweet peppers to very spicy varieties. Black pepper comes from another genus of plants.

The name Capsicum derives from the Greek word kapto, which means to bite. This refers to the hot burning sensation in the mouth that most chilies produce. Capsicum also originates from the Latin word capsa, which means box, a reflection of the squarish shape of the fruit.

The Capsicum genus includes an array of species, but the most common is red pepper, which is a part of a group of peppers with the scientific name of Capsicum annuum. Bell peppers are not hot peppers, but other peppers in this group have a range of heat.

Examples of chili peppers in this group include:

A second group of peppers is known as Capiscum chinese. This includes:

  • habanero
  • datil
  • Scotch bonnet

A third group, Capiscum frutencens, includes tabasco peppers.

Chili peppers are excellent sources of plant compounds called phytochemicals, many of which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Although researchers do not view phytochemicals as essential nutrients, as they do vitamins and minerals, the compounds may be valuable for protection against cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Phytochemicals in chili peppers include capsaicinoids, such as capsaicin, which is the main active ingredient. It produces the characteristic pungency and hot taste that many plants in the genus have. Other Capsicum phytochemicals include:

  • anthocyanins
  • flavonoids
  • phenolic acids
  • carotenoids such as lutein, lycopene, and zeazanthin

Additional nutrients in Capsicum include:

  • vitamin, such as:
    • vitamin Bs
    • vitamin C, which is high in red peppers
    • vitamin E, which is high in dried chili peppers
  • fiber
  • minerals such as:
    • iron
    • calcium
    • copper
    • manganese
    • molybdenum
  • amino acids such as:
    • tryptophan
    • phenylalanine
    • lysine

Many cultures use Capsicum in traditional medicine. In addition, studies indicate it may help prevent and treat many conditions. Below are some of the discoveries:

Metabolic syndrome

Researchers in 2018 reviewed studies on the effect of capsaicin on metabolic syndrome. In this condition, a person has several risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as diabetes, unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and obesity.

The research included studies involving both animals and humans. It found the following:

  • Diabetes: Studies suggest capsaicin has several actions that have an anti-diabetic effect. These include reducing insulin resistance, which makes it easier for blood glucose to get inside cells from the bloodstream. Capsaicin also helps prevent obesity, which is an important risk factor for diabetes.
  • Cholesterol: A number of studies suggest capsaicin can decrease total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoproteins, known as “bad cholesterol.” They also indicate it can increase high-density lipoproteins, known as “good cholesterol.”
  • High blood pressure: Studies show capsaicin reduces high blood pressure through several benefits. These include releasing substances that widen blood vessels, suppressing an enzyme that narrows blood vessels, and stimulating increased urination, which reduces blood pressure by helping remove excess fluid.
  • Obesity: Several studies report that capsaicin promotes weight loss by increasing appetite satisfaction and preventing the development and accumulation of fat cells.

The authors of the research concluded that the benefits of Capsicum for metabolic syndrome could reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. More research is necessary to confirm its effectiveness in humans, however.

Learn more about metabolic syndrome here.

Pain

A 2020 review evaluated the body of research on the pain-relieving effects of capsaicin in topical or injection form. Topical form means people apply it to the skin. The authors noted:

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a topical medication containing capsaicin for treatment of nerve-related pain from herpes.
  • European drug oversight agencies have approved the compound for other nerve-related pain conditions.
  • Studies on the use of capsaicin for treating Morton’s neuroma are promising. This is a painful condition that affects the foot.
  • Delivery through injection into a joint for arthritis may also be helpful.

A drawback of topical or injection capsaicin treatment involves immediate burning that lasts from minutes to hours. However, this is offset by the months of pain relief that a single treatment can provide, the authors said.

Cancer

A 2020 study reviewed research on the effects of capsaicin on cancer. A majority of the investigations involved high concentrations of the compound in cell cultures.

Overall, the findings indicated that capsaicin is anti-angiogenic, which means it helps prevent the growth of blood vessels that cancer requires for growth.

The authors concluded that the combination of capsaicin with chemotherapy offers two advantages for people with cancer. It offers pain relief and adds to the cancer-fighting action of the drugs. More research is necessary to precisely identify the effects of capsaicin on cancer.

Mortality

Research in 2017 examined the association between eating hot red chili peppers and mortality. The authors used data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey of more than 16,000 participants.

Analysis of the data showed a significant reduction in mortality in individuals who consumed the peppers. Because the research was observational in nature, the results suggested but did not prove that eating chili peppers may lower the risk of death.

Antibiotic-resistant infections

A current global health challenge is the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. In these infections, bacteria mutate in a way that they are no longer susceptible to eradication through antibiotic treatment.

A 2015 study tested the effectiveness of capsaicin against infection-causing bacteria that were resistant to the antibiotic erythromycin. The results indicated the compound can kill these resistant bacterial strains.

This was a test-tube study. Based on the encouraging results, the authors urged further research on animals and humans.

Capsicum is the genus that includes all varieties of peppers. This involves bell peppers as well as spicy peppers, such as cayenne and jalapeño.

While Capsicum contains several phytochemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, the primary one is capsaicin, which produces the pungency associated with chili peppers.

The FDA has approved a topical medication containing capsaicin for pain relief. More research is necessary to prove other possible benefits of the compound, but preliminary studies suggest it holds promise for the prevention and treatment of several conditions.

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