I love spicy foods. Whether it is Mexican food, or hot sauce on eggs, I absolutely love the heat. I love camarones a las diablas, curry chicken, and chili. When dieting, it is hard to find taste in “healthy” foods, but adding a little bit of hot sauce, or cooking with peppers can make a huge difference in the taste of your foods. But do you know that your body also loves the heat from spicy foods? Studies have shown that spicy foods, specifically the chemical capsaicin, have many beneficial effects on the body.
What is Capsaicin?
Capsaicin is the chemical that is in peppers that create the “heat”. This heat is supposed to protect the pepper as a self-defense mechanism to mammals. In high concentrations, capsaicin in contact with mucous membranes can cause severe burning (i.e. pepper spray). Some of the highest concentrations of capsaicin come from the ghost chili which has a cult following. Over the last few decades scientist have found that even though capsaicin can be an irritant to humans, it has great beneficial capabilities in medicine. Capsaicin has been proven to alleviate pain from arthritis, nerve pain, possible anticancer properties, and many other health related ailments.
History of Capsaicin
Capsaicin was first extracted by Christian Friedrich Buckholz in 1816. In 1873 German pharmacologist Rudolph Buchheim made the connection that capsaicin in contact with mucous membranes created the burning feeling. Over the years multiple studies have shown that capsaicin has the ability to relieve pain. There are multiple topical medicines that use capsaicin. Promising studies have also been conducted on the effect that capsaicin has on cancer. The American Cancer Society has mentioned that capsaicin may have the ability to kill prostate and lung cancer cells. Multiple studies also show that foods containing capsaicin have positive effects on blood sugar levels.
Weight Loss Studies
Over the past 20 to 30 years there have been a number of studies on weight loss with capsaicin. Many of these studies have shown great results. In a recent study, it was shown people who take a form of capsaicin prior to eating, ate 74 less calories (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24246368). To burn 74 more calories a day is the equivalent of walking stairs… for seven minutes!
Another article summarized various studies showing that capsaicinoids increased energy expenditure, increased lipid oxidation (fat burning), and reduced appetite. It mentioned that capsaicinoids increased energy expenditure by an average of 50 calories a day! (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22634197). To burn 50 calories, you would need to play Frisbee for 15 minutes, or hula hoop for ten minutes. If you look at both studies you can see a net loss of 124 calories per day! Let’s put this in perspective, if you cut 500 calories a day for an entire week, you should lose 1 pound of fat (not including exercise). Hypothetically, if you eat 74 less calories per day (on top of the 500 calorie reduction), plus burn an extra 50 calories per day, you could lose an extra 13 pounds per year.
How do I get Capsaicin?
Capsaicin is in peppers of all varieties, but the higher concentrations are found in the hottest peppers. The “hotness” of peppers are measured in scoville units, name after American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville who came up with the test to measure the heat from peppers. If you can handle the heat, peppers with the highest scoville units have the highest concentration of capsaicin. You do not need to ingest the hottest peppers in the world to achieve results from capsaicin. Peppers like jalapenos, tabasco sauce, and cayenne pepper offer more than enough capsaicin.
If you cannot handle the heat, there are multiple supplements that contain the substance in a pill form/powder. If you are prone to heartburn, I’d suggest taking the supplements not on an empty stomach!
Summary of Capsaicin
Is capsaicin the magic bullet for weight loss? No, but with the numerous benefits of the chemical, I see no reason not to include it in your everyday nutrition, whether by cooking with peppers, adding hot sauce, or taking capsaicin related supplements. Eat Right, Train Right, Look Right!