What Is Capsaicin?


What Is Capsaicin?

Capsaicin /ˌkæpˈseˌɪ.sɪn/ (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide)
Capsicum has a long tradition as a powerful, active ingredient in medicine. It is cultivated and harvested in warmer regions of the world. The fruit of the capsicum plant contains a chemical called capsaicin. The molecule was first isolated in 1816 in crystalline form by P. A. Bucholz and again 30 years later by L. T. Thresh, who gave it the name capsaicin. Capsaicin, when applied to the skin reduce pain sensations. Capsaicin is available in different forms, such as a cream, lotion, liquid, and skin patch.

The Scoville Scale

Capsaicin is a remarkable health-promoting substance. But since burning and irritation are common side effects, it may be wise to start using it slowly and build up a tolerance for larger quantities. The Scoville Scale is a tool for measuring the hotness of a chili pepper, as defined by the amount of capsaicin it contains, and is named after its creator, W. Scoville. This tool is also known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test. An alternative method for quantitative analysis uses high-performance liquid chromatography, making it possible to directly measure capsaicinoid content. Some hot sauces use their Scoville rating in advertising as a selling point.


How does it work?

You might be familiar with the taste of Capsaicin and the way it makes your mouth feel hot. But did you know it’s also got a medical purpose? It’s a key ingredient in creams and patches that can give you relief from pain. Capsaicin used on the body causes a sensation of heat that activates certain nerve cells. Applied to the skin capsaicin relaxes the muscles by increasing the blood flow, oxygen and nutrients are transported to the cells, and accelerate the removal of metabolic byproducts. It acts as a pain blocker as it decrease and prevents the re-accumulation of the neurotransmitter. With this heating effect reduces the amount of substance P, a chemical that helps transmit pain signals from sensory nerve fibers to the brain. After several applications of capsaicin, local stores of substance P (and possibly other chemical pain messengers) become depleted, and the nerve fibers in that area transmit fewer pain signals.

Studies show capsaicin creams and patches can help relieve pain that’s due to:

  • Joint conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Muscle sprains and strains
  • Migraines and other severe cluster headaches
  • Surgery

Some research suggests that Capsaicin topical it may help improve scaling, inflammation, redness, and pain from psoriasis (prurigo nodularis). It may also help relieve pain from nerve damage that’s due to treat nerve pain (Peripheral diabetic neuropathy and Postherpetic neuralgia), to relieve muscle spasms, to prevent nausea and vomiting after surgery, as a gargle for laryngitis, and can serve as a weight loss aid.

Important information you should know about capsaicin topical

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed. Topical medicine is for use only on the skin.

Capsaicin can cause a burning sensation wherever it is applied. If you have severe discomfort or skin redness, wash the treated skin area with soap and cool water. Get medical attention right away if you have severe burning, pain, swelling, or blistering of the skin where you applied this medicine.

Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D. health.harvard.edu/pain

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