Capsicum minimum Chili & Red Peppers
Peppers are native to South America and have been cultivated for over 5000 years. These plants, which belong to the nightshade family were introduced to Europe and India via the Portuguese. It has a long history of use as a fiery spice and as a potent pain reliever.
Peppers are rich in alkaloids (capsaicin, carotenoid pigments, flavonoids and ascorbic acid). Capsaicin is structurally similar to vanilla, a flavoring agent.
The hotness of chili peppers is due to a family of compounds called capsaicinoids, which belong to the larger family called vanilloids. The two capsaicinoids most often found in peppers are capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin. Different concentrations of capsaicinoids are responsible for the varying pungencies of peppers.
Capsaicin, the acrid component probably evolved to protect the pepper from its natural predators.
Capsaicin inhibits the production and release of Substance P. Substance P is an 11 amino acid long neuropeptide that binds with neurokinin receptors in the brain. Once bound, the receptor initiates the perception of pain.
Capsaicin stimulates circulation, perspiration and digestive secretions. Capsaicin stimulates salivation, gastric secretion and peristalsis while promoting healthy digestion.
Capsaicin’s analgesic activity is due to depletion of substance P, the pain transmitter, which relays pain signals to the brain.
Capsaicin is included in a patented medication (Zostrix) to improve healing and reduce pain. Based on its anti-Substance P activity, capsaicin is included in many skin ointments for symptomatic relief of arthritis.