The capsicum family includes red peppers, bell peppers, pimento, and paprika, but the most famous medicinal member of this family is the common cayenne pepper.
Cayenne and related peppers have a long history of use as digestive aids in many parts of the world, but the herb's recent popularity has, surprisingly, come through conventional medicine.
Capsaicin creams are approved over-the-counter drugs and should be used as directed. If the burning sensation that occurs with initial use is too severe, using weaker forms of the cream at first may be advisable.
For treatment of dyspepsia, cayenne may be taken at a dosage of 0.5 to 1.0 g three times daily (prior to meals).
What is the Scientific Evidence for Cayenne?
#Oral Uses of Cayenne
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 30 individuals with dyspepsia were given either 2.5 g daily of red pepper powder (divided up and taken prior to meals) or placebo for 5 weeks. ^ By the third week of treatment, individuals taking red pepper were experiencing significant improvements in pain, bloating, and nausea as compared to placebo, and these relative improvements lasted through the end of the study.
A placebo-controlled, crossover study failed to find benefit, but it only enrolled 11 participants, far too few to have much chance of identifying a treatment effect. ^
#Topical Uses of Cayenne
All double-blind studies of topical capsaicin (or cayenne) suffer from one drawback: It isn’t really possible to hide the burning sensation that occurs during initial use of the treatment. For this reason, such studies probably aren’t truly double-blind. It has been suggested that instead of an inactive placebo, researchers should use some other substance (such as camphor) that causes at least mild burning. However, such treatments might also have therapeutic benefits; they have a long history of use for pain as well.
Because of these complications, the evidence for topical treatments cited below is less meaningful than it might at first appear.
Capsaicin cream is well established as a modestly helpful pain-relieving treatment for post-herpetic neuropathy (the pain that lingers after an attack of shingles), ^ peripheral neuropathy (nerve pain that occurs most commonly as a complication of diabetes , but may occur with HIV as well as other conditions), ^ pain after surgery for cancer surgery ^ ^ ^ or hernia repair, ^ and osteoarthritis . ^ Weaker evidence supports the use of topical capsaicin for fibromyalgia . ^ Capsaicin instilled into the nose may be helpful for cluster headache . ^ (The fact that this has even been considered a viable treatment option shows how painful cluster headaches can be!)
Actual cayenne rather than capsaicin has been tested for pain as well. A 3-week, double-blind trial of 154 individuals with back pain found that cayenne applied topically as a “plaster” improved pain to a greater extent than placebo. ^
A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of nearly 200 individuals found that use of topical capsaicin can improve itching as well as overall severity of psoriasis . ^ Benefits were also seen in a smaller double-blind study of topical capsaicin for psoriasis. ^ Topical capsaicin is thought to be helpful for various itchy skin conditions, such as prurigo nodularis, but double-blind studies are lacking. ^ ^
#Intranasal Uses of Cayenne
One study of 208 patients with idiopathic rhinitis found that using a capsicum nasal spray 3 times daily for 3 days (4 mcg/puff) may reduce symptom frequency. ^