Capsaicin’s Role in Medicine

Written By Joseph Kim; Second Year Project Manager

Capsaicin is an active component in chili peppers, this is what causes the burning sensation when you eat spicy foods. Besides food, did you know that capsaicin is also commonly used in medicine? Capsaicin is also used as a topical analgesic in concentrations between 0.025% and 0.25%. They can be used temporarily to relieve aches and pains associated with arthritis, sprains, and backaches. These are currently some of the more common indications for capsaicin. However, there are studies being conducted to determine whether capsaicin may have a role in the prevention of serious damage in heart attacks.

The main problem with a heart attack is that the heart tissue dies due to lack of oxygen. This tissue death is known as an infarction. Studies show that remote ischemic stimuli have shown to elicit cardioprotection against ischemia- reperfusion injury. In layman’s term, this means that briefly depriving one area of the body can stimulate endogenous molecules that protect the heart from heart attack damage. One of the stimuli is a non-ischemic surgical abdominal incision (remote precondition of trauma- RPCT). This incision by unknown underlying physiological mechanisms causes drastic decreases in infarct sizes (heart damage). This phenomenon is currently being studied, researchers have also tried stimulating this cardioprotective response by applying capsaicin in the abdominal area. In a study published by the American Heart Association, researchers have found that applying topical capsaicin on the abdominal regions of rats also significantly decreased the infarct size in controlled ischemia- reperfusions. Some of the advantages of capsaicin therapy versus the abdominal incision therapy are that capsaicin does not require surgery, can be applied in route to a hospital, and is a lot cheaper.

These studies are only preliminary research and are not justifications for self-treatment. Though there is not much information on the physiological mechanism of the capsaicin- cardioprotective pathways, the data shows to be promising. Who knows, we may see this in practice someday. Be on the lookout for future studies!

Disclaimer: this article is an analysis of various studies, and is not a professional recommendation.




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