When researching the benefits of hot peppers, I noticed a lot of published lists with only 10 to 12 benefits and uses. After reading through them, I thought to myself, hot peppers surely have more than 12 benefits! So, I spent days researching and creating this ultimate list of 36 benefits and uses of hot peppers!
1. Cancer fighting properties
Research is done every day to find different chemical compounds to help fight cancers. I was surprised to find that capsaicin, the “heat” compound in chili peppers, has shown preliminary evidence that It may help disrupt metastasizing in some cancers. In simple terms, this means it may help in slowing or stopping the spread of the cancer from one part of the body to another.
A recent study showed that giving capsaicin to mice with lung cancer stopped or slowed the cancer from spreading. During the test, mice with lung cancer were separated into two groups, with one group receiving a capsaicin infused diet and the other receiving no capsaicin. The mice in the group who were consuming capsaicin had a lower count of metastasis cancer cells in their lungs compared to the other group.
Researchers believe capsaicin stops lung cancer cells from metastasizing by blocking the Src protein from activating. The Src protein is a key factor in cancer growth, responsible for helping the cancer cells survive and spread.
Researchers noted that creating an effective treatment using capsaicin had certain barriers because of the “unpleasant” side effects. For most people it would be too spicy and unpleasant to consume the amount of capsaicin needed for a possible therapy. Therefore, researchers are looking for potential analogs of capsaicin which have similar cancer fighting properties, but without the heat.
Other examples where capsaicin has shown initial evidence of helping fight cancer are breast, prostate, and colon cancers.
If you are a chili head it does not hurt, well, in a relative sense, to eat a few spicy peppers a day to possibly help reduce cancer risks. Obviously, this kind of research is still in its infancy and no clinical capsaicin-based cancer therapies have been approved.
2. Heart health
You read that correctly, chili peppers are good for your heart health. What about chili peppers make them good for the heart? It is all about the capsaicin, a well-known anti-inflammatory, present in hot chili peppers. Researchers think the reduction of inflammation may help prevent the buildup of plaque inside blood vessels.
Plaque buildup in blood vessels can cause all sorts of nasty problems like decreased blood flow, chest pain, shortness of breath, and coronary diseases which can eventually lead to heart attacks.
The evidence is not just anecdotal: studies have been published in medical journals which support this thesis with corroborating observations within studied populations.
In 2019, there was a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology focused on comparing Italians who ate chili peppers versus those who do not.
The study was extensive, examining 22,811 men and women with a median follow-up period of about eight years. It was geographically focused on the Molise region of Italy, which is Northeast of Naples. The study observed that the population cohort which consumed chili peppers at least four times a week were 40 percent less likely to die from cardiac arrest caused by a heart attack.
In 2015, there was a study in China that deduced that individuals who ate spicy food almost every day experienced a 22 percent reduced likelihood of death from heart disease, specifically caused by the narrowing of arteries. Which as mentioned earlier, could be from the lower levels of inflammation experienced in people who eat capsaicin rich foods.
3. Lower risk of stroke
In that same Italian study mentioned in the heart heath section, folks who ate chili peppers on a regular basis were 50 percent less likely to die from a stroke than those who rarely ate them. A theory on why people experience lower risk of stroke from eating hot peppers is that the capsaicin present in the peppers increases blood flow, which helps prevents the development of abnormal clots in the cardiovascular system. Another theory is that people in the study who ate chili peppers also ate more herbs and other healthy ingredients that enhance food flavors.
More medical research needs to be done to determine why people who eat chili peppers regularly have a lower risk of stroke. But in the meantime, keep eating those chilis and sprinkle in a few extra herbs for good measure!
4. Cardiovascular system health
Hot peppers not only lower the risk of heart attack and stroke but improve the whole cardiovascular system. A study presented in 2012 found that capsaicin, the chemical compound found in all hot peppers, improved heart health in two ways. The first way is by reducing the accumulated cholesterol in the body and breaking it down faster through normal digestive processes. The second way is by blocking the gene cyclooxygenase-2, which influences artery contraction. The contraction of arteries restricts blood flow to the heart and the rest of the body.
The study was done using hamsters on high-cholesterol diets. The hamsters were then split into two groups, the first group consumed no capsaicinoids, which is the spicy chemical in peppers, and the second group consumed various amounts of capsaicinoids. The group that consumed capsaicinoids experienced better cardiovascular health including lower levels of bad cholesterol while maintaining the same levels of good cholesterol.
I know what you may be saying, just because hot peppers improved cardiovascular health in hamsters how can we know they do the same in humans?
It is not a perfect match but often experiment results on rodents and other animals can be extrapolated to humans. As mentioned earlier in the post, there is substantial evidence based on a large observed population of humans that a diet including regular consumption of hot peppers improves heart health and might reduce the risk of dying from heart attack and stroke. All three of these are related to the cardiovascular system.
Through lowering cholesterol and keeping blood vessels open and flowing, hot peppers improve the health of the entire cardiovascular system, which improves the functionality of the rest of your body.
5. Weight Loss
That is right, introducing some chili peppers into your diet may help you lose a couple of extra pounds. Now I am not saying you will see any drastic results, but I believe doing a bunch of small things can add up to a meaningful result. Hot peppers can help assist in weight loss in three ways: fewer food cravings, increased metabolism, and additional calories burned.
Scientists and medical researchers have known about the obesity fighting properties of hot peppers core chemical compound, capsaicin for many years. However, the amount of hot peppers that would need to be consumed to receive the full benefit of the compound would lead to serious stomach aches and potentially other negative side effects.
Recently, researchers have found a way to create a pill which can be swallowed that slowly releases capsaicin throughout the day without the negative side effects. The University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy ran a study on the drug, Metabocin and found promising results when used on mice.
The study found that the fat cells of the mice taking the drug stopped storing energy and started losing weight. Other positive side effects were lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, improved insulin response, and less symptoms of fatty liver disease.
These results were observed by comparing two groups of mice on the same diet and same level of exercise, but one group was given the drug and the other was not.
Adding hot peppers to your diet will not give you the full benefits as described in the study but you should get some small benefits. Without hot peppers, this exciting new frontier of capsaicin-based medicines would not be possible, so I still consider this a benefit of hot peppers!
7. Blood pressure
As touched upon briefly in a few of the health benefit related sections above, eating hot peppers could improve your blood pressure. Studies showed that rats who were genetically predisposed to high blood pressure (hypertension) benefited from capsaicin, the heat chemical present in hot peppers.
The hypertensive rats who consumed capsaicin on a long-term basis had lower blood pressure compared to the rats who did not consume capsaicin.
Researchers believe that capsaicin causes blood vessels to relax, allowing for blood to flow freer through the cardiovascular system, reducing blood pressure. This impact should benefit not only rats but humans as well!
8. Headaches and migraines
Hot chili peppers have been used for many years to treat pain. Many individuals who suffer from recurring headaches and migraines swear by spicy foods to help find relief for their painful symptoms.
Look around the internet and you will find stories of people eating spicy salsa and hot soups to find reprieve from their terrible headaches and migraines. One of the more interesting anecdotes I came across was an individual who ate spicy chili peppers and drank coffee to alleviate his migraine. Something about the combination of capsaicin and caffeine did it for him and in less than an hour he claimed his migraine was gone.
These stories from the web are intriguing, but what about the science? What is happening in the body after consuming hot peppers that helps relieve the pain associated with headaches?
Some researchers believe capsaicin can deplete CGRP (Calcitonin gene-related peptide) in the brain, which is one protein which can be responsible for headaches. When released in the brain, CGRP causes inflammation which can result in migraines. By depleting CGRP from the brain, capsaicin can essentially prevent headaches.
Now it goes without saying that a healthy well-balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables will give you the highest likelihood of a long life. Lucky for you and me, hot peppers can be part of that healthy well-balanced diet!
Studies of general populations comparing groups of people who eat hot peppers to those who do not have revealed interesting results.
Researchers have observed that consumption of hot peppers, specifically red ones, is associated with a 13 percent reduction in death. The study was based on surveys done between 1988 and 1994 of over 16,000 participants of at least 18 years of age. The study found that the total mortality of those who consumed hot red chili peppers was 21.6 percent compared to 33.6 percent for those individuals who did not consume peppers.
Some people have been critical of this study stating it was not controlled enough to be relied upon. Regardless of how accurate the 13 percent reduction in death is, I will continue to eat red hot chili peppers just to stack a few more chips in my favor!
10. Sinus congestion and inflammation
The active chemical compound in hot chili peppers, capsaicin, has caused tears and runny noses ever since humans began eating them. More recently, researchers have found that nasal sprays containing capsaicin can be an effective treatment for non-allergy related sinus inflammation.
These non-allergy related sinus issues can be caused by weather, chemicals, perfumes, and other triggers.
An experimental trial was done in 2011 by the University of Cincinnati where folks suffering from non-allergy sinus congestion were given a nasal spray that contained capsaicin. Every time the individual experienced nasal congestion they were instructed to use the nasal spray.
Average results of the individuals showed that they experienced sinus relief within a minute of using the spray. This was a big break through because at the time there were not many effective treatments for non-allergy related sinus inflammation.
11. Pain management
I know what you are thinking, how the heck can hot chili peppers be used to manage pain, when they usually cause pain?
We are all used to the burning sensation in our mouths when we bite into a chili pepper. It is not the chili pepper itself that provides a form of pain management, but rather its key chemical compound capsaicin.
The capsaicin can be integrated with a topical cream to help elevate localized pain. Researchers do not know exactly how it works but believe somehow it stimulates the release of a chemical substance P.
This is the substance that helps transmit pain signals to the nervous system and on to the brain. The capsaicin somehow depletes substance P levels where it is applied topically, preventing pain signals working their way to the brain.
Careful though, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling capsaicin creams or you will be experiencing pain if you touch a sensitive area.
Arthritis is a common and potentially painful ailment many adults suffer from. In the United States, 23 percent of all adults, or approximately 54 million individuals, suffer from it.
Symptoms of Arthritis include pain, swelling, and stiffness around the joints, ankles, back, fingers, neck, and wrists.
So how do hot peppers help with Arthritis symptoms? Once again, it is not the pepper pods themselves but the chemical compound capsaicin. Capsaicin can be utilized to help with the pain cause by Arthritis. As discussed above, pain signals arrive at the brain with the help of a chemical in the body called substance P.
Capsaicin has been used to help deplete this substance which helps prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. Topical creams have been developed specifically to treat Arthritis pain. Just remember to wash your hands after using them!
13. Immune system health
Many hot peppers are packed with vitamins and minerals that are key to maintaining a healthy immune system. Of course, every chili pepper is different, but most contain Vitamins A, C, and B-6. They also have magnesium and iron which are important for immune system health. When picking peppers to get a vitamin boost go for the red ones as they tend to be more nutrient rich.
14. Vitamin dense
Hot peppers are full of vitamins which help keep your body healthy and running smoothly. Most hot peppers are full of Vitamin C and have decent levels of Vitamins A, B, and K. Many hot peppers also have minerals like potassium, manganese, magnesium, and iron.
15. Natural high
If you eat enough spicy food, you can get a “high” like feeling as your brain releases chemicals as it reacts to the capsaicin being delivered by the hot peppers. The brain reacts to the burning sensation in the mouth by releasing endorphins and dopamine. These chemicals help relieve the pain but also give you a slight high. The high someone gets from eating hot peppers is euphoric in feeling and is remarkably like the high many runners experience after a long run.
16. Natural appetite suppressant
Some studies have shown that consuming capsaicin before meal can reduce individuals’ appetite. That, along with a slight metabolic boost, makes eating hot peppers a helpful ally in the fight against obesity.
17. Digestive health
Believe it or not, spicy chili peppers can make your digestive system healthier.
But hold on you might say, I get terrible heart burn and stomach issues after eating chili peppers. Yes, for some individuals, chili peppers might cause an adverse reaction. But for many others, capsaicin, the key heat compound in chili peppers, can assist in gut health by reducing inflammation.
When capsaicin enters the digestive system, it finds and links up to a receptor that creates anandamide. Anandamide is a chemical compound which can lower inflammation in the digestive system, keeping it healthy.
18. Flavor enhancement
This one is obvious, hot peppers help make food more flavorful. Not only do the peppers themselves have great flavor, the spice helps make dishes more interesting by adding an extra zing to the flavor.
19. Stomach ulcer prevention and treatment
I had a hard time believing this when I heard it but the capsaicin in hot peppers actual reduces acid production in the stomach. This means it helps mitigate the acid build up that can make an ulcer worse.
Crazy as it sounds, capsaicin has been used as medication to prevent ulcers in individuals who are susceptible to them.
20. Psoriasis relief
Hot peppers’ natural ability to reduce inflammation can help alleviate the pain and itchiness that comes with psoriasis. Remember, as with anything in life, moderation is key. If you eat too many hot peppers it may make things worse. Be sure to test the waters lightly at first by eating chili peppers in moderation and then you can gradually build up to more if you are seeking psoriasis relief.
21. Reduces inflammation
Hot peppers’ chemical compound capsaicin’s natural anti-inflammatory properties assist in keeping your body balanced. The lower levels of inflammation your body is battling against, the better. In addition to capsaicin’s anti-inflammatory properties, chili peppers also contain both sinapic and ferulic acids which also may help reduce inflammation.
22. Makes your food more colorful
Chili peppers can add some great colors to your food. Hot peppers come in a variety of colors including red, orange, yellow, green, brown, and purple. So, chop up a few chilis and toss them into your dish to spice it up for both your mouth and your eyes!
23. Fungal fighter
Hot peppers are naturally anti-fungal. Through evolution, peppers started producing capsaicin the chemical that makes them spicy, but which also prevents their seeds from becoming infected and unable to sprout.
24. Cold and flu fighting
A common symptom when we get sick with a cold or flu is a blocked or stuffy nose. Next time you get sick and have a stuffy nose, try to eat a few hot peppers. The spiciness might help to break up some of that mucus buildup. I personally like to slice up a few chili peppers and add them into a broth-based soup when I am sick and usually get good results.
25. Seasonal allergy relief
If you suffer from seasonal allergies and often get a congested nose as a result, consuming a few hot peppers may provide some relief. Hot peppers are a natural decongestant and can help to reduce mucus buildup. Other spicy foods that can help are garlic, wasabi, and hot mustards.
26. Eye health
Red chili peppers are a great source of Vitamins A, C, and E which are all important for the health of our eyes.
27. Adding fragrance to foods
Hot chili peppers have a delectable aroma which can make any dish you add them to even more appealing. As humans, we eat not only with our mouths, but with our eyes and nose as well, so by adding hot peppers to your meals you will get a boost in all three senses.
28. Skin health
Hot peppers have high levels of vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for your skin’s health, so to enjoy the benefits, all you must do is add them to your meals. However, do not rub chili peppers on your skin! This will only cause your skin to burn and get inflamed!
Hot peppers are full of antioxidants which help get rid of free radicals in your body. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage the cells in your body. To get as many antioxidants as possible consume the more mature red chili peppers. Red chili peppers, which are riper than the green ones, have larger quantities of antioxidants.
30. Seeds to grow more peppers
Hot peppers are chalk full of seeds which can be used to grow more peppers. If you are in the right climate or have a heated green house, you can grow peppers year-round by keeping the seeds from your most recent harvest.
31. Pest repellent
For folks who do not want to use artificial chemical pesticides on their gardens, they can create a natural pest repellent out of hot pepper powder. By taking the hot pepper powder and mixing it into a liquid it can be sprayed on your garden to protect them from many pests, including rabbits and deer.
If you are interested in making such a pest repellent, here is a recipe that can be made with spices and foods you probably already have at home. You will need the following:
- 1 bulb of garlic
- 1 small onion
- 1 teaspoon of cayenne powder
- 1 quart of water
- Cheese cloth
- Dish soap
- Spray bottle
To make the homemade pest repellent, puree the bulb of garlic and small onion in a blender. Once pureed, add 1 teaspoon of cayenne powder and the quart of water. Poor the mixture into a saucepan and let the pungent spicy mixture steep on low heat for an hour. After steeping, let the mixture cool and then strain through the cheese cloth and remove all the chunks. Once the mixture is strained, add a tablespoon of dish soap to the liquid. Once the dish soap is incorporated, put the mixture in a spray bottle and you are all set.
You can spray that mixture over your plants, and it will be pungent enough to ward off most garden variety pests.
32. Personal safety
Hot pepper extracts have been used for years to create pepper sprays which can be used in self-defense. They are also used as self-defense against large animals like bears in parts of the country that are surrounded by wilderness.
33. It is food!
That is right, hot peppers are food that you and I can eat for sustenance, vitamins, and minerals. Although hot peppers are not calorie dense, they are nutrient rich which makes them the perfect companion to spice up a meat or vegetarian dish.
34. Decorative plants
Some species of pepper plants are more for decoration than eating. Many grow small multicolored pods making the plant look like it has decorative lights on them. Many of these pepper plants grow well indoors. If you would like to purchase one of these plants for your home, look up “ornamental pepper plants”.
35. Crop defense
If you are a farmer in Africa, you may have run into a few elephants rummaging around your produce in the middle of the night. This is a serious issue for many farmers near wild elephant populations. Farmers facing this issue have found that putting hot chili peppers around their crops can help to repel the elephants and other wildlife. So, if you ever find yourself with an elephant or other wild animal destroying your crops, just toss around a few spicy hot peppers to keep them at bay.
36. Dental Health
Some of the vitamins in chili peppers benefit dental health. Red chili peppers have high amounts of Vitamin A which is good for your bones, teeth, and gums. Although green peppers have vitamins and nutrients, they possess less vitamin A, so they are not as beneficial for dental health.