You might not be familiar with the name, but you probably know the taste. Capsaicin is the stuff in chili peppers that makes your mouth feel hot. But it's also got a medical purpose. It's a key ingredient in creams and patches that can give you relief from pain.
Capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) is an active component of chili peppers, which are plants belonging to the genus Capsicum. It is a chemical irritant for mammals, including humans, and produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact.
Capsaicin is the ingredient found in different types of hot peppers, such as cayenne peppers, that makes the peppers spicy hot. You can eat it in raw or cooked peppers or as a dried powder, which you can add to food or drinks. It also is available as a dietary supplement, in topical creams that you apply to your skin, or in a prescription skin patch.
Due to this structure, capsaicin is hydrophobic, soluble in fat, alcohol, and other organic solvents. It is colorless, odorless, and ranges from crystalline to waxy.
Studies have found that capsaicin can increase your metabolism, which increases the rate at which you use energy and burn fat stores. It can also lower your appetite, which may help you eat less than you normally would.
Capsaicin is used to help relieve pain. Capsaicin works by first stimulating and then decreasing the intensity of pain signals in the body. Although pain may at first increase, it usually decreases after the first use. Capsaicin stimulates the release of a compound believed to be involved in communicating pain between the nerves in the spinal cord and other parts of the body.
When you apply capsaicin cream, gel, lotion, or ointment to the skin (topical use), it may help relieve pain from:
Pain disorders, including pain after surgery.
Nervous system problems such as diabetic neuropathy, trigeminal neuralgia, and postherpetic neuralgia (shingles).
Joint problems such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Skin conditions such as psoriasis.
Mouth sores due to chemotherapy or radiation.
You can put products that contain capsaicin on your skin up to 4 times a day. You may feel a burning or itching sensation the first few times you use capsaicin, but this will gradually decrease with each use. Wash your hands thoroughly after each use to avoid getting capsaicin in your eyes or on other moist mucous membranes, where it can cause a burning sensation. Do not use capsaicin on areas of broken skin.
A high-dose skin patch is available by prescription (Qutenza). The patch is used to treat nerve pain from postherpetic neuralgia. It must be put on and removed by a doctor or nurse. The patch is left on the skin only for an hour or less, but the capsaicin continues to relieve pain after the patch is removed.
When you eat hot peppers or take capsaicin as a dietary supplement, the capsaicin may improve your digestion by increasing the digestive fluids in the stomach and by fighting bacteria that could cause an infection. It may also help fight diarrhea caused by bacterial infection.
Capsaicin acts as an antioxidant, protecting the cells of the body from damage by harmful molecules called free radicals. Capsaicin powder also may help prevent bacterial infections.
Capsaicin may also make mucus thinner and help move it out of the lungs. It is also thought to strengthen lung tissues and help to prevent or treat emphysema.
Warmth, stinging, or burning on the application site may occur. If any of these effects persist or worsen, contact your doctor or pharmacist promptly.
Coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, or throat irritation may occur if you breathe in the dried residue from the medication. Use caution to avoid inhaling the residue.
If your doctor has directed you to use this medication, remember that your doctor has judged that the benefit to you is greater than the risk of side effects. Many people using this medication do not have serious side effects.
Stop using this medication and tell your doctor right away if you have any serious side effects, including: blistering/swelling at the application site, increased/unusual pain at the application site.
A very serious allergic reaction to this drug is rare. However, seek immediate medical attention if you notice any symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, including: rash, itching/swelling (especially of the face/tongue/throat), severe dizziness, trouble breathing.
This is not a complete list of possible side effects. If you notice other effects not listed above, contact your doctor or pharmacist.
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