Capsaicin

Last Updated: February 28, 2024

Capsaicin is a molecule found in hot peppers that creates the sensation of spiciness by activating the heat receptor TRPV1. Ingestion of capsaicin may improve exercise performance, but it appears mostly ineffective for fat loss. When applied topically, capsaicin can reduce pain.

Capsaicin is most often used for

What is capsaicin?

Capsaicin is a type of capsaicinoid, a category of alkaloids often found in fruits of the Capsicum genus of the Solanaceae family. Capsaicin is known for its role in making chili peppers spicy.

What are capsaicin’s main benefits?

Capsaicin and its analogues (e.g., capsiate, a non-spicy capsaicinoid) show promise as preworkout ergogenic supplements, producing small improvements in performance on strength-based exercises (e.g., squats) when taken about 45 minutes before a workout.[2][3]

Capsaicinoids like capsaicin might lead to Fat loss, but the effect seems very small, if it exists at all.[4] Intriguingly, two clinical trials found that capsaicinoids led to a decrease in abdominal/visceral fat (with no change in total body fat levels).[5][6]

Consuming foods high in capsaicin (e.g, chili peppers) is associated with a lower risk of early death, possibly mediated by a reduction in heart disease mortality.[7]

Topical application of capsaicin can be helpful for nerve pain, with analgesic effects reported in the context of diabetes and HIV-associated neuropathy as well as shingles-related neuralgia.[8][9] Topical capsaicin may also reduce pain due to osteoarthritis.[10][11]

What are capsaicin’s main drawbacks?

Ingestion of capsaicin-containing foods causes a burning sensation to the mouth that can be unpleasant (although some people find it enjoyable, possibly due to endorphin release[12]). Topical capsaicin can result in a burning sensation at the application site.

Capsaicin can provoke adverse gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms (e.g., abdominal pain, diarrhea, and heartburn), especially in high dosages and in people with GI disorders (e.g., irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)).[13][14][15][16] There is some evidence that GI symptoms subside with regular consumption, although more research is needed.[17][18]

Case-control studies have frequently observed an association between chili pepper consumption and a higher risk of stomach cancer.[19] However, this finding remains controversial, given the limitations of case-control evidence and the fact that the China Kadoorie Biobank study, one of the highest quality studies on the topic, found that people who ate chili peppers more frequently actually seemed to have a lower risk of stomach cancer.[20]

How does capsaicin work?

Most of capsaicin’s effects are mediated by a protein called transient receptor potential vanilloid subtype 1 (TRPV1). TRPV1 is found throughout the body, including the oral cavity, nervous system, skeletal muscles, and adrenal glands.[21][22][23] By activating TRPV1, capsaicin can create the sensation of heat (e.g., in the mouth), promote sweat release, stimulate adrenaline release, increase metabolic activity in skeletal muscles, and inhibit sensory neurons responsible for transmitting feelings of pain.[22][24][25]

What else is Capsaicin known as?
Note that Capsaicin is also known as:
  • Chili extract
  • Hot pepper extract
  • trans-8-methyl-N-Vanilyl-6-nonenamide
  • Capsaicinoids
  • Cayenne
Capsaicin should not be confused with:
Dosage information

Capsaicin/capsaicinoids are typically given in doses ranging from about 1.2 to 12 mg, although some studies have used up to 135 mg per day.[1]

Capsaicin-containing supplements are usually sold in the form of dried chili pepper powder (e.g, cayenne). A capsule containing 500 mg of dried cayenne pepper contains around 1.2 mg of capsaicin.

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References
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  20. ^Wing Ching Chan, Iona Y Millwood, Christiana Kartsonaki, Huaidong Du, Yu Guo, Yiping Chen, Zheng Bian, Robin G Walters, Jun Lv, Pan He, Chen Hu, Liming Li, Ling Yang, Zhengming Chen, China Kadoorie Biobank (CKB) Collaborative GroupSpicy food consumption and risk of gastrointestinal-tract cancers: findings from the China Kadoorie BiobankInt J Epidemiol.(2021 Mar 3)
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Examine Database References
  1. Blood glucose - Chaiyasit K, Khovidhunkit W, Wittayalertpanya SPharmacokinetic and the effect of capsaicin in Capsicum frutescens on decreasing plasma glucose levelJ Med Assoc Thai.(2009 Jan)
  2. Heart Rate - Shin KO, Moritani TAlterations of autonomic nervous activity and energy metabolism by capsaicin ingestion during aerobic exercise in healthy menJ Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo).(2007 Apr)
  3. Blood Pressure - Yoshioka M, Imanaga M, Ueyama H, Yamane M, Kubo Y, Boivin A, St-Amand J, Tanaka H, Kiyonaga AMaximum tolerable dose of red pepper decreases fat intake independently of spicy sensation in the mouthBr J Nutr.(2004 Jun)
  4. Weight - Zhang W, Zhang Q, Wang L, Zhou Q, Wang P, Qing Y, Sun CThe effects of capsaicin intake on weight loss among overweight and obese subjects: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.Br J Nutr.(2023-Nov-14)
  5. Aerobic Exercise Metrics - .(2022-10-28)