What Is It?
Health Benefits
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects

What Is It?

Thought to have originated in Cayenne, French Guiana, cayenne is a spice derived from several varieties of dried hot peppers in the Capsicum species. Cayenne is a relative of the mild bell pepper used in salads and also of the fiery peppers found in chili powders and hot sauces, but it has no connection to black table pepper. Used for centuries by cooks around the world to add "heat" to traditional dishes, cayenne has gained a solid reputation both as a painkiller and digestive aid.

Health Benefits

The principal active ingredient in cayenne is capsaicin (pronounced cap-SAY-sin), an oily, irritating phytochemical that can cause a burning sensation on initial contact with the skin. (Not surprisingly, it's found in pepper sprays sold for self defense.) Applied topically, cayenne cream (also called capsaicin cream) eases pain by providing diversionary discomfort and by depleting the body's supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that normally sends pain signals to the brain. Taken in any of its various oral forms, cayenne may help digestion, stimulate circulation, and relieve sore throats and colds. Suggestions that cayenne can reduce heart disease risk or help prevent cancer are unfounded.

Specifically, cayenne may help to:

• Reduce the pain of arthritis, diabetes, shingles, fibromyalgia, surgical wounds and headache. Cayenne cream or ointment is particularly effective in easing the joint discomfort of arthritis. It can also relieve pain that results from diabetes-related nerve damage or the aftereffects of shingles (postherpetic neuralgia). In addition, preliminary studies indicate that cayenne cream may help control the muscle pain of fibromyalgia. It may even ease wound pain following a mastectomy or limb amputation. Special cayenne nasal preparations may minimize the severity of cluster headaches (use these preparations only under a doctor's supervision, however).

• Ease the itching of psoriasis. Because itching is generated by signals that follow the same nerve pathways as those of pain, applying cayenne cream to irritated areas may help psoriasis sufferers. Cayenne works by keeping the nerve signals responsible for perceiving itching or pain from ever reaching the brain.

• Relieve the discomforts of Raynaud's disease. Applying cayenne topically to your fingers and toes may help reduce some of the pain and numbness Raynaud's sufferers typically feel in their extremities when exposed to cold air.

• Promote digestive health and relieve ulcers. When taken internally, capsaicin is believed to help reduce gas and speed the healing of ulcers. This is accomplished by increasing blood circulation in the stomach and intestines, and by stimulating the normal flow of digestive juices.

• Soothe colds and sore throat. Using a special cayenne nasal preparation may reduce cold-related congestion. Gargling with a mixture of liquid capsaicin and water may offer relief from a sore throat.

Note: Cayenne has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Cayenne.


  • tincture
  • softgel
  • ointment
  • liquid
  • gel
  • fresh herb
  • dried herb/tea
  • cream
  • capsule

Dosage Information

• For external use to relieve pain: To see how sensitive your skin is to this herb and how effective it will be for you, begin by applying a thin coating of cayenne cream or ointment to just one painful area; rub it in well. Reactions will vary, often depending upon the formulations of different preparations: Concentrations of topical capsaicin can range from 0.025% to 0.075%. Initially, almost everyone feels a warm or uncomfortable burning sensation at the site of the application; this usually lingers for about 30 minutes. After a few consecutive days of applying the cream or ointment (do it three or four times daily), the burning effect usually vanishes. If, after a week, the discomfort has diminished and some pain relief is noticeable, treat all the other painful areas in the same manner.

• For digestive health and other internal uses: When taking cayenne internally as a digestive aid, follow the package directions carefully. The usual recommendation is to start at a low dose for either acute or chronic conditions and increase the dose gradually as needed. For example, gas, indigestion, or a headache might respond to 1 capsule of capsaicin or a cup of cayenne tea. Prepare the tea by pouring 1 cup (8 ounces) of boiling water over 1/2 teaspoon of powdered cayenne; mix well. For chronic conditions, start with one cup of tea at this concentration three times a day. Over a period of weeks, gradually increase the amount of cayenne to 1 teaspoonful, and drink the tea three times a day, or as tolerated.

• For sore throat and nasal congestion: For sore throat, gargle with cooled cayenne tea made by pouring 1 cup (8 ounces) of boiling water over 1/2 teaspoon of powdered cayenne. Drink the cooled tea as a decongestant, up to three times a day as needed, if nasal and sinus congestion accompanies your sore throat.

Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Cayenne, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.

Guidelines for Use

• If applying cayenne topically to relieve pain, leave it on for at least 30 minutes before washing it off. This gives the capsaicin a chance to penetrate the skin.

• Use warm, soapy water or vinegar to remove cayenne from the skin.

• When using cayenne topically, don't let it come into contact with raw, irritated skin and open wounds or sensitive areas, such as your eyes and nose. The burning sensation can be severe.

• To avoid accidental transfer of cayenne cream or ointment to the eye area, wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water or vinegar after applying it. Take care not to inadvertently touch your contact lenses. Alternatively, use disposable latex gloves during application and then discard them. You can also cover the area you've treated with a loose bandage to prevent accidental transfer of the cream or ointment to sensitive areas. If your eye is affected, flush the area with water or milk.

• Cayenne can be used safely with arthritis medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If such a combination provides significant pain relief, consult your doctor about reducing the dosage of your medication.

• When treating an internal condition, cayenne can be taken with or without food.

General Interaction

There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with cayenne.

Possible Side Effects

• Should cayenne accidentally come into contact with your eyes, or any moist mucous membrane, the pain and burning will be intense but transient.

• When cayenne is taken internally in doses higher than recommended, sometimes diarrhea or stomach pain can occur.

• Some people experience a burning sensation during bowel movements when taking cayenne internally.

• Applying too much cayenne cream may produce coughing, sneezing, teary eyes and a scratchy throat.


• Never use cayenne cream on a raw or open area of skin, no matter how painful the area underneath may be.

• Keep cayenne cream and ointment away from your eyes and moist mucous membranes. The burning sensation cayenne causes can be extremely painful, but rest assured, it will not last and there's no danger of permanent damage.

• Keep cayenne products away from children.

Date Published: 04/18/2005
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