Source: The Amazing Healing Powers of Nature, Reader’s Digest
Capsaicin: a hot way to relieve nerve, joint and arthritis pain
Capsaicin, the chemical responsible for the fireworks in your mouth when you bite into a chili pepper, doesn’t only add a spicy bite to your dinner. It’s also used in treatment for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetic neuropathy and postherpetic neuralgia (nerve pain experienced after shingles).
Ache-easing, over-the-counter capsaicin creams are widely used by people with arthritis or diabetic neuropathy’nerve damage that often occurs in feet and fingertips in people with high blood glucose levels.
Not all peppers can relieve pain, though. Native to the Americas, the Capsicum genus includes numerous species of flowering plants that produce large red, yellow or green fruits. These include bell peppers and the spicy, capsaicin-containing varieties known as chili peppers. Common varieties of these include cayenne, jalapeño and Tabasco (named after the Mexican state by the same name and made popular by the hot sauce company that shares the name as well). It is these spicy varieties, because of the spice-causing capsaicin, that are used in pain relief remedies.
How to use capsaicin as a remedy
For osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetic neuropathy, apply an over-the- counter cream containing 0.025 percent capsaicin to aching joints or feet 4 times a day for 3 to 4 weeks. About 40 percent of people who try this experience stinging, burning or skin redness at first, but these effects fade as capsaicin desensitizes nerves.
If you’re experiencing nerve pain after a bout of shingles, try a cream containing 0.075 percent capsaicin.
Next time you have a cold, sprinkle chili (flakes, powder or finely chopped fresh chili) onto your food‘its heat will stimulate drainage from the nasal and sinus passages.
Consumed fresh, chilies are a good source of vitamin C. However, eat them in moderation, as eating large amounts may cause nausea, stomach pain and diarrhea
Patch up severe nerve pain
Painful and difficult-to-treat nerve pains associated with shingles infections and HIV/AIDS are no match for a new patch containing 8 percent capsaicin. Applied to affected skin and left in place for 60 minutes, the patch eased postherpetic neuralgia pain by 30 percent or more for 40 percent of those who tried it during a 2008 study of 402 people at the University of Wisconsin’Madison. High-dose capsaicin seems to stunt pain receptors on nerves; these can grow back, but the treatment can be repeated every 3 months, up to 3 times a year. Ask your doctor for information.
How capsaicin came to be used as a natural remedy
Capsaicin was first isolated in its pure form in 1876, by British chemist John Clough Thresh. Early use of hot peppers as a pain remedy relied on the fact that capsaicin creates a burning sensation on contact. This acts as a ‘counterirritant”a fast, welcome distraction from a nasty toothache, for example.
It took nearly 130 years for researchers to uncover and harness capsaicin’s unique ability to soak into pain-sensing nerve fibres and shut them down, turning off aches for weeks or months at a time. In 1979, researcher Tony Yaksh at the Mayo Clinic discovered in laboratory studies that repeated applications of concentrated capsaicin depleted levels of ‘substance P,’ a neuropeptide within nerve fibres that spurs inflammation and irritation. Without substance P on board, nerves can’t transmit pain signals to the brain.
This led to the development of ache-easing, over-the-counter capsaicin creams that are now widely used by people with arthritis or diabetic neuropathy’nerve damage that often occurs in feet and fingertips in people with high blood glucose levels. In a 1991 Case Western Reserve University study of 101 people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, those who used capsaicin cream daily said pain dropped by between 33 and 57 percent after 4 weeks. When 252 people with diabetic neuropathy used capsaicin cream or a placebo for eight weeks in a 1991 US study, the capsaicin users reported a 58 percent improvement in pain relief.