Cayenne pepper [Capsicum annuum] has been used as a food and by traditional herbalists for thousands of years. The hot and spicy taste of cayenne pepper is mainly due to a component known as capsaicin. Modern scientific studies have indicated that consuming cayenne can help support cardiovascular and digestive functions.
Capsaicin affects physiological pathways involved in temperature and pain perception by interacting with sensory neurons. Capsaicin first activates pain receptors, but upon repeated application to the skin, it desensitizes these receptors and provides temporary pain relief.
Capsaicin's anti-inflammatory qualities make it an effective supplement for promoting heart health. For example, a three-month study found that capsaicin significantly reduced risk factors for heart disease in adults who had low HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).
Studies have shown that capsaicin can increase your metabolism, which increases the rate at which you use energy and burn fat stores. It can also reduce your appetite, which may help you eat less than you normally would.
Capsaicin is a key ingredient in various pain medications. It can be used in the form of a cream, for example, or even a patch for certain more specialized therapeutic applications. Capsaicin patches are applied in the doctor's office to treat conditions such as postherpetic neuralgia and others.