(NaturalHealth365) Do you suffer from recurring heartburn, chronic indigestion or ulcers? For years, conventional ‘wisdom’ has been to avoid spicy foods – if experiencing an upset stomach. In fact, for gastrointestinal disorders, conventionally-trained healthcare providers firmly believe that any kind of hot peppers (or spicy food) should be avoided – at all costs.
But what if our family doctor has it all wrong? Medical researchers are now finding that capsaicin – the pungent phenolic compound that gives ‘heat’ to cayenne, chili and jalapeno peppers – is harmless to the digestive tract. Hot peppers do not, in fact, cause or even aggravate ulcers.
And that’s not all. In addition to not harming the gastrointestinal system, capsaicin may actually have therapeutic effects.
How does capsaicin help to heal the gut?
Not only can capsaicin-rich peppers dramatically reduce symptoms of heartburn and indigestion after a few weeks of use – they also have a strong protective effect on stomach tissues. New York University Langone Medical Center now credits capsaicin, in peppers, with helping to prevent damage from such known stomach irritants as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and alcohol.
How do hot peppers work to reduce pain?
When your body’s tissues are exposed to capsaicin, the initial response is to release substance P, a neurotransmitter that carries pain messages to the brain. This is the reason that eating hot peppers can make you feel as if your mouth – and your stomach – is on fire. But the discomfort, while real, doesn’t reflect any tissue damage. It merely mimics the sensation of having tissue damage inflicted, while causing no actual harm.
The benefit comes with repeated exposure to capsaicin, through frequent and regular consumption of hot peppers. When capsaicin regularly contacts a specific site on the body, levels of substance P actually become depleted at the nerve terminals in that location. The result – significant reductions in pain.
Science raves about capsaicin for digestive disorders
Numerous studies, both animal and clinical, support the ability of capsaicin to relieve uncomfortable digestive symptoms when used over time. In a clinical double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in 2002 in Alimentary Pharmacolology and Therapeutics, researchers set out to see if capsaicin could impair visceral nociceptive C-type fibers – which have a role in generating pain.
Subjects diagnosed with dyspepsia – the medical name for heartburn — received 2.5 grams of red pepper powder a day for five weeks. Three weeks into the study, the subjects receiving the red pepper powder began to report reductions of up to 60 percent in pain, fullness and nausea. The team concluded that red pepper did indeed significantly decrease symptoms, and noted its potential as a treatment for dyspepsia.
Capsaicin’s preventive effects on gastric mucosa have also been well documented in both animal and human studies. In one well-designed study published in Digestive Diseases and Science, healthy volunteers consumed 20 grams of capsaicin-rich chili, followed by 600 mg of aspirin, a known stomach irritant. Endoscopies showed that those who had eaten the chili suffered significantly less gastric injury than subjects in the control group.
Big pharma would like us to ignore the facts
In addition to beneficial capsaicin, hot peppers also contain important micronutrients. Their bright orange-red color is a testament to their high levels of beneficial flavonoids, particularly carotene – an antioxidant pigment that gives color to carrots.
Rich in antioxidant vitamins A and C, cayenne peppers also contain lutein and zeaxanthin — which may help prevent age-related macular degeneration – and are a good source of manganese, a mineral the body needs to manufacture the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. Finally, hot peppers are fiber-rich and cholesterol-free.
How to promote digestive healing with spicy food
Hot peppers, also known as cayenne peppers and chili peppers, can be enjoyed as spicy delicacies either cooked or raw. They are recognized as generally safe; however, moderation is the best course – avoid eating quantities that are larger than normal dietary amounts. NYU Langone Medical Center reports that cayenne peppers may be taken to relieve dyspepsia, or indigestion, at a dosage of .5 to 1.0 grams – three times a day before meals.
The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that capsaicin from hot peppers is available in capsule form, and notes that the usual dosage is between 30 and 120 mg. – up to three times a day. Hot peppers can interact with prescription medications; naturally you should consult your doctor before using them. Don’t attempt to treat gastric ulcers with peppers unless supervised by a trusted, healthcare provider.
Although hot peppers may not work for everyone, many have found safe, drug-free relief from heartburn pain with the help of this natural remedy. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, hot peppers could be just the ticket for easing painful heartburn. As they say, sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.
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