Capsaicin is the ingredient found in chili peppers that gives them their spiciness. Likely, you will have heard by now that it can also provide a number of health benefits, especially relating to weight loss.
But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll likely find that the benefits go beyond merely increasing the metabolism and can perform a range of wonders for the body. Let’s take a closer look…
What Is Capsaicin?
Capsaicin is not only found in chili but also in animal repellants of various kinds, in some medicines and in some analgesics.
To get to the bottom of what makes this ingredient so potent and so different, we need to ask what it is that makes it taste hot to the tongue. The answer is that capsaicin can bind to a channel protein in specific sensory nerve cell endings called nociceptors. You may know nociceptors better as being pain receptors. These are the nerves that fire when we are in pain and interestingly, capsaicin can cause these to fire without inflicting any damage. Capsaicin simply activates the channel protein allowing calcium ions to flow into the cell, triggering the pain response.
This is also why drinking water will do very little to help ease off the sensation caused by hot food! That said though, drinking milk, eating rice or even drinking beer can help. So order a pint of cobra!
Capsaicin Increases the Sensation of Fullness and Increases the Metabolism
It’s relatively well-known that capsaicin can speed up the metabolism and thereby help us to burn more calories, more quickly. This is thanks to its thermogenic effects, as well as its impact on mitochondrial biogenesis.
What’s more, is that capsaicin can also help us to feel fuller. This is due to its ability to stimulate the production of hormones relating to satiety in the hypothalamus (1). This means that adding chili to your diet, or using capsaicin as a supplement, may be useful in reducing feelings of hunger, thereby making it easier to last until dinner without snacking. If this can lower your overall intake of calories, then it can lead to weight loss and associated health benefits!
As mentioned, capsaicin is used in a number of medications including those for arthritis and fibromyalgia. It can also be used as a topical analgesic. Despite its ability to stimulate nociceptors, capsaicin actually lowers levels of substance P – which is a chemical that controls our experience of pain in the brain.
Hot peppers also contain large amounts of vitamin A and C, giving them additional health benefits.
Don’t expect capsaicin to transform your waistline or to eliminate pain forever. But if you’re looking to shed a few extra pounds and reduce your perception of pain, it can’t hurt to add a few chilis to your cooking!