Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum Annuum)

Medical Uses

Cayenne pepper (capsaicin) is used for peptic ulcer disease, neuralgias, and herpes zoster.

Historical Uses

Cayenne pepper (capsaicin) was first used medicinally by a physician during Columbus’s voyage.


This mildly pungent plant may be either annual or biennial. Its dark green fruits turn red when ripe.

Cayenne Pepper: Part Used

• Fruit

Major Chemical Compounds

• Capsaicinoids, including capsaicin

• Vitamins A, C, and E

Cayenne Pepper: Clinical Uses

Cayenne pepper is used for neuralgias and herpes zoster and is effective in the treatment of peptic ulcer. It is approved by the German Commission E for “painful muscle spasms of the shoulder, arm, and spine in adults and children”. It has been shown to be useful for swallowing difficulty in acute tonsillitis.

Mechanism of Action

Capsaicin draws blood to the gastrointestinal tract for rapid healing. It also stops Substance P in the pain cycle. Capsicum species contain antinociceptive substances, which help to relieve chronic pain.

Cayenne Pepper: Dosage

External use: 1/2 ounce of cayenne powder added to 1 quart of rubbing alcohol for muscle aches; applied as a poultice.

Ointment or cream: Preparations of .02 to .05 percent capsaicinoids in emulsion base applied to affected areas. Cream may be applied up to four times a day.

Capsules or tablets: 400 mg to 500 mg up to three times a day.

Side Effects

Cayenne pepper may cause a burning sensation when used topically. It can also cause gastrointestinal irritation if taken internally in large doses. It may increase bleeding time.


• Do not give this herb internally if patient has gastrointestinal bleeding.

• Do not rub cayenne in or near the eyes.

• Do not use on open skin.

Herb-Drug Interactions

Chili pepper (cayenne pepper) reduced mucosal damage when taken 30 minutes before aspirin.

Pregnancy and Breast-Feeding

No restrictions are known.

Summary of Studies

Yeoh et al. (1995). Cayenne pepper protected 18 subjects’ gastric mucosa from aspirin irritation when they took it 30 minutes before taking the aspirin.

Zhang & Li Wan Po (1994). This report is a meta-analysis of the benefits of using capsaicin for osteoarthritis, postherpetic neuralgia, diabetic neuropathy, and psoriasis.

Borrelli & Izzo (2000). The use of capsicum as an anti-ulcer remedy was studied.

Calixto et al. (2000). The use of capsicum species as naturally occurring antinociceptive substances from plants was studied.

Rau, E (2000). A mixture of capsicum and other herbs in a clinical trial of 48 patients with acute tonsillitis alleviated swallowing difficulty within the first 5 days of treatment in more than half of the patients, with no side effects noted.

Cayenne Pepper: Warnings

• Topical use can cause a burning sensation.

• Cayenne pepper may increase your risk of bleeding.

• Don’t rub cayenne pepper in or near your eyes.

• If you take aspirin, talk with your health-care practitioner about taking cayenne before taking aspirin. In a clinical study, chili (cayenne) pepper taken 30 minutes before aspirin reduced damage to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract that can result from aspirin.

• Internal use of large doses can cause gastrointestinal irritation.

• Don’t use this herb if you have gastrointestinal bleeding.

• Don’t use this herb on broken skin.

• No restrictions are noted during pregnancy or breast-feeding.

Cayenne Pepper: Recipes

Sore Muscle Rub

For external use only. To ease sore muscles, add Y> ounce of cayenne powder to 1 quart of rubbing alcohol. Or chop a red pepper, add to rubbing alcohol, and let the mixture sit until the alcohol turns red. Then strain out the pepper pieces. Rub either preparation onto your skin to help ease sore muscles. Don’t apply it on open wounds or near your eyes. Don’t take it internally.

Stress Reducers

If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease or a similar digestive disorder, try these stress-reduction “Recipes” to help yourself relax, increase the oxygen flow in your body, and decrease your heart rate.

Belly breathing. While lying or sitting, close your eyes and place both hands on your belly. As you breathe in through your nose, feel your stomach push out into your hands. As you breathe out through your mouth, feel your stomach pull in. Try this three times. Then hold your breath for a few seconds and enjoy this peaceful, restful time.

If you have trouble going to sleep at night, do a few belly breaths with your eyes closed. If thoughts come into your mind, just start counting each breath as you exhale. If you still have trouble going to sleep, play an audiotapeof the sounds of gentle waves. Inhale as each wave recedes, and exhale as each wave comes to shore.

Exercise. Get some form of exercise daily, such as a meditative walk. Or try lying face up with your back on a huge exercise ball; relax to help stretch your stomach area. During your exercise time, make sure to get plenty of sunshine and fresh air.

Meditation. Either lie down or sit comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands in lap. Make sure the room is quiet, the phone is off the hook, and the door is closed. Or go for a quiet walk in the woods and lean up against a tree. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. As you inhale, feel your stomach push out. As you exhale, feel your stomach pull in. Relax and think of a peaceful image. Or, if you choose, think of a word such as “peace” or “love” and repeat it in your mind. Relax for about 10 minutes. Do this exercise at least once a day.