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Capsicum

What is it?

Capsicum, also known as red pepper or chili pepper, is an herb. The fruit of the capsicum plant is used to make medicine.

Capsicum is used for various problems with digestion including upset stomach, intestinal gas, stomach pain, diarrhea, and cramps. It is also used for conditions of the heart and blood vessels including poor circulation, excessive blood clotting, high cholesterol, and preventing heart disease.

Other uses include relief of toothache, seasickness, alcoholism, malaria, and fever. It is also used to help people who have difficulty swallowing.

Some people apply capsicum to the skin for pain caused by shingles, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. It is also used topically for nerve pain (neuropathy) associated with diabetes and HIV, other types of nerve pain (neuralgia), and back pain.

Capsicum is also used on the skin to relieve muscle spasms, as a gargle for laryngitis, and to discourage thumb-sucking or nail-biting.

Some people put capsicum inside the nose to treat hay fever, migraine headache, cluster headache, and sinus infections (sinusitis).

One form of capsicum is currently being studied as a drug for migraine, osteoarthritis, and other painful conditions.

A particular form of capsicum causes intense eye pain and other unpleasant effects when it comes in contact with the face. This form is used in self-defense pepper sprays.

How effective is it?

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The effectiveness ratings for CAPSICUM are as follows:

Likely effective for...

  • Nerve damage related to diabetes. Some research shows that applying a cream or using a patch containing capsaicin, the active chemical found in capsicum, to the skin reduces pain in people with nerve damage caused by diabetes.
  • Pain. Applying creams and lotions containing capsaicin, the active chemical in capsicum, can temporarily relieve chronic pain from several conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, back pain, jaw pain, psoriasis, and other conditions.
  • Nerve damage caused by shingles. Applying a patch containing capsaicin (Qutenza, NeurogesX Inc., San Mateo, CA, USA), the active chemical in capsicum reduces pain over 24 hours by 27% to 37% for in people with nerve damage caused by shingles. This capsaicin patch is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration(FDA) for this use. It is only available by prescription.

Possibly effective for...

  • Back pain. Some research shows that applying a plaster that contains capsicum to the back can reduce low back pain.
  • Cluster headache. Some research shows that capsicum might reduce the number and severity of cluster headaches when used in the nose (Zostrix, Rodlen Laboratories). It's best to apply capsicum to the nostril that is on the same side of the head as the headache.
  • Fibromyalgia. Applying a cream containing capsaicin, the active chemical in capsicum, 4 times daily to tender points for 4 weeks seems to reduce tenderness in people with fibromyalgia.
  • Runny nose not caused by allergies or infection (perennial rhinitis). Some research shows that using capsaicin, the active chemical in capsicum, in the nose can reduce runny nose in people without allergies or an infection. The benefits might last for 6-9 months.
  • Nausea and vomiting after surgery. Some research shows that applying a plaster containing capsicum to specific points on the hand and forearm 30 minutes before anesthesia and leaving it in place for 6-8 hour daily for up to 3 days after surgery reduces nausea and vomiting.
  • Pain after surgery. Research suggests that applying a plaster containing capsicum to specific points on the hand and forearm 30 minutes before anesthesia and leaving it in place for 6-8 hour daily for up to 3 days after surgery reduces the need for painkillers within the first 24 hours.
  • A skin disease called prurigo nodularis. Applying a cream containing capsaicin, the active chemical in capsicum, 4-6 times daily seems to relieve burning sensations, itching and other symptoms. It may take 22 weeks to 33 months of treatment to see a benefit. Symptoms may return after stopping use of capsicum.

Possibly ineffective for...

  • Exercise performance. Research shows that taking a supplement containing capsicum and other ingredients before exercise does not improve performance in men.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Hay fever (allergic rhinitis). Early research suggests that inserting cotton wads in the nose that have been soaked in the capsicum active chemical for 15 minutes and repeated over two days might reduce hay fever symptoms. But there is conflicting evidence that this might not improve symptoms.
  • Heartburn. Early research suggests that red pepper powder (containing capsicum) in capsules taken 3 times daily before meals reduces symptoms of heartburn. But in some people, symptoms get worse before they get better.
  • Nerve damage caused by HIV. Some research suggest that applying a patch containing capsaicin, the active chemical in capsicum, to the skin for 30-90 minutes reduce pain for up to 12 weeks in people with nerve damage caused by HIV. But other research suggests it might not provide any benefits.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Early evidence suggests that capsicum fruit taken by mouth does not help symptoms of IBS.
  • Migraine headache. Some reports suggest that using the active chemical in capsicum in the nose might help migraine headaches.
  • Stomach ulcers. Early evidence suggests people who eat capsicum fruit (chili) an average of 24 times per month appear to be less likely to have an ulcer than people who eat chili an average of 8 times per month. This applies to chili in the form of chili powder, chili sauce, curry powder, and other chili-containing foods. But there is other evidence that suggests eating chili peppers does not help heal ulcers.
  • Polyps in the nose. Early research suggests that putting capsicum in the nose seems to improve symptoms and airflow in people with polyps.
  • Swallowing difficulties. Some people, especially elderly people or those who have suffered a stroke, are more likely than other people to develop "aspiration pneumonia." This is a kind of pneumonia that develops after food or saliva is sucked into the airways because the person couldn't swallow properly. There is some evidence that dissolving a capsaicin-containing lozenge in the mouth of elderly people with swallowing problems before each meal can improve their ability to swallow.
  • Inflamed tonsils. Early research suggests that taking a product containing capsicum (Tonsillitis PMD Drops and Tonsillitis PMD Tablets) up to five times daily seems to reduce symptoms of tonsil inflammation, including difficulty swallowing, earache, headache, and fatigue.
  • Weight loss. Some evidence suggests that taking capsules containing capsicum twice daily 30 minutes before eating for 12 weeks reduces stomach fat in overweight and obese people. But it does not seem to improve weight loss. Other evidence suggests that taking a combination supplement (Prograde Metabolism) containing capsicum extract (Capsimax, OmniActive Health Technologies) twice daily for 8 weeks reduces body weight, fat mass, waist circumference, and hip circumference when used along with a diet.
  • Blood clots.
  • Colic.
  • Cramps.
  • Fever.
  • Heart disease.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Laryngitis.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Nausea.
  • Toothache.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of capsicum for these uses.

How does it work?

The fruit of the capsicum plant contains a chemical called capsaicin. Capsaicin seems to reduce pain sensations when applied to the skin.

Are there safety concerns?

Capsicum is LIKELY SAFE when consumed in amounts typically found in food, short-term. Side effects can include stomach irritation and upset, sweating, flushing, and runny nose. Medicinal lotions and creams that contain capsicum extract are also LIKELY SAFE for most adults when applied to the skin. The active chemical in capsicum, capsaicin, is approved by the FDA as an over-the-counter medication. Side effects can include skin irritation, burning, and itching. Capsicum can also be extremely irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat. Don't use capsicum on sensitive skin or around the eyes.

Capsicum is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth as medicine for short-term use, when applied to the skin appropriately, and when used in the nose. No serious side effects have been reported, but application in the nose can be very painful. Nasal application can cause burning pain, sneezing, watery eyes, and runny nose. These side effects tend to decrease and go away after 5 or more days of repeated use.

Capsicum is POSSIBLY UNSAFE to take by mouth in large doses or for long periods of time. In rare cases, this can lead to more serious side effects like liver or kidney damage, as well as severe spikes in blood pressure.

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Capsicum is LIKELY SAFE when applied to the skin during pregnancy. But not enough is known about its safety when taken by mouth. Stay on the safe side and don't use capsicum if you are pregnant.

If you are breast-feeding, using capsicum on your skin is LIKELY SAFE. But it is POSSIBLY UNSAFE for your baby if you take capsicum by mouth. Skin problems (dermatitis) have been reported in breast-fed infants when mothers eat foods heavily spiced with capsicum peppers.

Children: Applying capsicum to the skin of children under two years of age is POSSIBLY UNSAFE. Not enough is known about the safety of giving capsicum to children by mouth. Don't do it.

Bleeding disorders: In theory, capsicum might increase the risk of bleeding in people with bleeding disorders.

Damaged or broken skin: Don't use capsicum on damaged or broken skin.

Diabetes: In theory, capsicum might affect blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Until more is known, monitor your blood sugar closely if you take capsicum. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.

High blood pressure: Taking capsicum or eating a large amount of chili peppers might cause a spike in blood pressure. In theory, this might worsen the condition for people who already have high blood pressure.

Surgery: Capsicum might increase bleeding during and after surgery. Stop using capsicum at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Are there interactions with medications?

Moderate
Be cautious with this combination.
Aspirin
Capsicum might decrease how much aspirin the body can absorb. In theory, taking capsicum with aspirin might reduce the effectiveness of aspirin.
Cefazolin
Capsicum can increase how much cefazolin the body can absorb. Taking capsicum along with cefazolin might increase the effects and side effects of cefazolin.
Ciprofloxacin
Capsicum can increase how much ciprofloxacin the body can absorb. Taking capsicum along with ciprofloxacin might increase the effects and side effects of ciprofloxacin.
Cocaine
Cocaine has many dangerous side effects. Using capsicum along with cocaine might increase the side effects of cocaine, including heart attack and death.
Medications changed by the liver (Cytochrome P450 2C9 (CYP2C9) substrates
Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Capsicum might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. In theory, taking capsicum along with some medications that are broken down by the liver might increase the effects and side effects of some medications. Before taking capsicum, talk to your healthcare provider if you take any medications that are changed by the liver.

Some medications that are changed by the liver include amiodarone (Cordarone), fluconazole (Diflucan), lovastatin (Mevacor), paroxetine (Paxil), zafirlukast (Accolate), and many others.
Medications changed by the liver (Cytochrome P450 2E1 (CYP2E1) substrates)
Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Capsicum might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. In theory, taking capsicum along with some medications that are changed by the liver might increase the effects and side effects of your medication. Before taking capsicum, talk to your healthcare provider if you take any medications that are changed by the liver.

Some medications that are changed by the liver include diethyldithiocarbamate and disulfiram.
Medications changed by the liver (Cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4) substrates)
Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Capsicum might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. In theory, taking capsicum along with some medications that are broken down by the liver can increase the effects and side effects of some medications. Before taking capsicum, talk to your healthcare provider if you are taking any medications that are changed by the liver.

Some medications changed by the liver include amiodarone (Cordarone), clarithromycin (Biaxin), diltiazem (Cardizem), erythromycin (E-mycin, Erythrocin), indinavir (Crixivan), ritonavir (Norvir), saquinavir (Fortovase, Invirase), and many others.
Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs)
Some research shows that capsicum might affect blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. In theory, capsicum might cause an interaction with diabetes medications resulting in blood sugar levels going too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely if you take capsicum. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.

Some medications used for diabetes include glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), and others.
Medications for high blood pressure (Antihypertensive drugs)
Some research shows that capsicum might increase blood pressure. In theory, taking capsicum along with medications used for lowering high blood pressure might reduce the effectiveness of these drugs.

Some medications for high blood pressure include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), losartan (Cozaar), valsartan (Diovan), diltiazem (Cardizem), Amlodipine (Norvasc), hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDiuril), furosemide (Lasix), and many others.
Medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs)
Capsicum might slow blood clotting. Taking capsicum along with medications that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.

Some medications that slow blood clotting include aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen (Anaprox, Naprosyn, others), dalteparin (Fragmin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, warfarin (Coumadin), and others.
Theophylline
Capsicum can increase how much theophylline the body can absorb. Taking capsicum along with theophylline might increase the effects and side effects of theophylline.
Warfarin (Coumadin)
Warfarin (Coumadin) is used to slow blood clotting. Capsicum might increase the effectiveness of warfarin (Coumadin). Taking capsicum along with warfarin (Coumadin) might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding. Be sure to have your blood checked regularly. The dose of your warfarin (Coumadin) might need to be changed.
Minor
Be watchful with this combination.
Medications for high blood pressure (ACE inhibitors)
Some medications for high blood pressure might cause a cough. There is one report of someone whose cough worsened when using a cream with capsicum along with these medications for high blood pressure. But is it not clear if this interaction is a big concern.

Some medications for high blood pressure include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril), ramipril (Altace), and others.

Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?

Coca
Using capsicum (including exposure to the capsicum in pepper spray) and coca might increase the effects and risk of adverse effects of the cocaine in coca.
Herbs and supplements that might lower blood sugar
Capsicum might affect blood sugar. Using it along with other herbs and supplements that also affect blood sugar might cause blood sugar to drop too low in some people. Some of these products include bitter melon, ginger, goat's rue, fenugreek, kudzu, willow bark, and others.
Herbs and supplements that might slow blood clotting
Capsicum might slow blood clotting. Taking capsicum with herbs and supplements that also slow clotting might increase the risk of bruising and bleeding in some people. Some herbs that slow blood clotting are angelica, clove, danshen, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, Panax ginseng, and others.
Iron
Using capsicum might reduce the ability for the body to absorb iron.

Are there interactions with foods?

There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?

The following doses have been studied in scientific research:

APPLIED TO THE SKIN:
  • For pain, including arthritis, neuropathy, and fibromyalgia: Creams contain the active capsicum constituent capsaicin and are typically applied 3-4 times daily. It can take up to 14 days for maximum pain relief. Most creams contain 0.025% to 0.075% capsaicin concentrations. Higher power preparations may be used for diabetic neuropathy.
  • For back pain: Capsicum-containing plasters providing 11 mg capsaicin/plaster or 22 mcg/cm2 of plaster applied have been used. The plaster is applied once daily in the morning and left in place for 4-8 hours.
  • For prurigo nodularis: 0.025% to 0.3% of the active capsicum constituent capsaicin 4-6 times daily has been used.
Be sure to wash your hands after applying capsaicin cream. A diluted vinegar solution works well. You won't be able to get the capsaicin off with just water. Don't use capsicum preparations near the eyes or on sensitive skin. It could cause burning.

INSIDE THE NOSE:
  • For cluster headache, 0.1 mL of a 10 mM capsaicin suspension, providing 300 mcg/day of capsaicin, applied to the nostril on the painful side of the head. Apply the suspension once daily until the burning sensation disappears. A capsaicin 0.025% cream (Zostrix, Rodlen Laboratories) applied daily for 7 days has been used to treat acute cluster headache attacks.
Putting capsaicin in the nose can be very painful, so a local painkilling medicine such as lidocaine is often put into the nose first.

Other names

African Bird Pepper, African Chillies, African Pepper, Aji, Bird Pepper, Capsaicin, Capsaïcine, Capsicum annuum, Capsicum baccatum, Capsicum chinense, Capsicum Fruit, Capsicum frutescens, Capsicum minimum, Capsicum Oleoresin, Capsicum pubescens, Cayenne, Cayenne Fruit, Cayenne Pepper, Chili, Chili Pepper, Chilli, Chillies, Cis-capsaicin, Civamide, Garden Pepper, Goat's Pod, Grains of Paradise, Green Chili Pepper, Green Pepper, Hot Pepper, Hungarian Pepper, Ici Fructus, Katuvira, Lal Mirchi, Louisiana Long Pepper, Louisiana Sport Pepper, Mexican Chilies, Mirchi, Oleoresin capsicum, Paprika, Paprika de Hongrie, Pili-pili, Piment de Cayenne, Piment Enragé, Piment Fort, Piment-oiseau, Pimento, Poivre de Cayenne, Poivre de Zanzibar, Poivre Rouge, Red Pepper, Sweet Pepper, Tabasco Pepper, Trans-capsaicin, Zanzibar Pepper, Zucapsaicin, Zucapsaïcine.

Methodology

To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.

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Last reviewed - 11/11/2016