While browsing the pain aisles of your local pharmacy or grocery store, you may have come across a product called Zostrix. The active medicinal ingredient is known as capsaicin, which is derived from the fruits of the capsicum flowering plants. These “fruits” are so common in our diet and chances are you have eaten them before. Tabasco peppers, jalapenos, cayenne, chili and paprika are a few examples of capsaicin in its natural form. Capsicum has been cultivated for millennia, in almost every society, for its medicinal, flavoring and preserving properties.
Modern Day Uses
Medicinally, capsaicin is most commonly used for pain caused by arthritis, fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy and shingles. It is, however, also been used “off-labeled” for burning mouth syndrome, psoriasis and mucositis, also known as inflammation of the mucous membranes or ulcers.
How It Works
Capsaicin’s therapeutic properties seed from its actions on a receptor found throughout the nervous system called the TRPV1 receptor, aka “the capsaicin receptor”. This receptor is responsible for detecting and regulating body temperature, known as a thermoreceptor. If you touch a hot iron, TRPV1 receptors get activated and releases pain signals, known as Substance P, to signal the brain.
After prolonged exposure to heat, desensitization occurs resulting in a depletion of Substance P, thus reducing pain signaling. Capsaicin uses this heat stimulation, found in peppers, to exert its analgesic effects. This is also the reason why it takes capsaicin upto 2 weeks to feel its beneficial effects.
How it relates to cannabis
The TRPV1 receptor is also activated by cannabidiol, CBD, a major phytocannabinoid found in cannabis. CBD has been found to beneficial in many chronic conditions such as seizure disorder, movement disorders, inflammation and pain.
It all comes back to physiology and pharmacology. Since these receptors are located throughout the body, CBD has been shown that “motor function can be suppressed by the activation of the [TRPV1] receptor”. This means CBD can reduce muscle spasticity, rigidity as well as reduce seizure frequency and severity. Patients with multiple sclerosis, seizure disorder, ALS and other related movement disorders feel symptomatic relief when utilizing CBD due, in part, to its actions on TRPV receptors.
CBD has also been found useful in patients with chronic inflammation, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis or Crohn’s disease. The reason many patients feel relief with CBD, again, stems from its actions on TRPV1. When we have inflammation, our bodies become acidotic, which is a direct activator of the TRPV1 receptor. Patients with chronic inflammation tend to be more temperature sensitive because of the over-activity of their thermoreceptor.
Uses in cooking and holistic wellness
In cooking the best way to add capsaicin to your dish is to use it sparingly unless you love the heat! Fresh Jalapenos or hot peppers will provide a stronger flavour as opposed to using cayenne pepper or paprika as a seasoning. One tip if you aren’t a huge fan of spice but would like to access some of the amazing health benefits of the peppers is to soak the chopped pepper in water before adding it to your dish. This will take away some of the oils that pack the extra punch.
Cayenne can be added to warm lemon water in the morning or any kind of tea. If you are looking to lose weight, it can help speed up metabolism, burn fat and even suppress appetite. Additionally, it has been shown to improve overall physical endurance and athletic performance! It might take a few mornings to get used to the sharp flavour but you will certainly be feeling the benefits in no time.
Skin conditions such as psoriasis can be treated with capsaicin as well. Using capsaicin cream on the condition has proven to dramatically decrease the dry, itchy breakout of psoriasis on the skin. If you are someone suffering from dermatitis or psoriasis we suggest making a homemade salt or sugar scrub with some cayenne added to it. This is a therapeutic intervention and not suggested for people who don’t have skin conditions as it is used to relieve itching and dull skin and too much may cause irritation.
Homemade Scrub with Cayenne to help relieve symptoms of psoriasis:
With it’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties cayenne, paprika, and fresh hot peppers are a great addition to your diet and for topical application. As with anything it takes our bodies some time to get used to any changes so go easy until you adapt to the spicy qualities of this amazing compound.
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, put in closed jar and use topically in the shower 3-4x per week for as long as necessary. Over time this scrub will most definitely help heal the skin!
Uses in cooking and holistic wellness and recipe provided by Holistic Health Coach Sarah Kincaid Kelly
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