The Cayenne Cure

By Meghan Rabbitt

Move the black pepper aside. Cayenne’s got a lot more flavor—and does more for your health than you might imagine. Malcolm Taw, MD, assistant clinical professor at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, says research shows cayenne helps:

Lower blood pressure. Capsaicin—the main extract of cayenne pepper—releases neurotransmitters in the body that help the vascular system expand, allowing blood to flow more easily. These neurotransmitters also initiate diuresis (the process by which the body excretes salt), which also lowers blood pressure.

Ease pain. From twinges in your low back to chronic arthritis, capsaicin lowers levels of substance P in the body, the neurotransmitter that signals pain.

Prevent illness. There are five major flavors in our diet: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy. “Since Americans get way more sweet and salty foods than any others, adding spice helps balance things out,” says Taw. “This balance can improve circulation, help with digestion, and detoxify the body—all of which can help prevent disease.”

Add a teaspoon of cayenne pepper to soups, stews, and casseroles. Can’t handle the heat? Take a tincture, which is easier for the body to absorb than capsules. As for the areas where you feel pain, apply a topical cream containing between .025 and .075 percent capsaicin. Just be sure to check with your doc before using, since cayenne can have potential drug interactions with blood thinners, H2 blockers, and ACE inhibitors.