Chili pepper also called chile pepper or chilli pepper (from Nahuatl term "chilli" ) is the fruit of a plant from the genus Capsicum, in the nightshade family, Solanaceae. Chili peppers originally grew in America, but spread around the world after the discovery of the continent by Christopher Columbus.
The fiery fruit found its way into many ethnic cuisines. Its medicinal qualities were quickly discovered and applied for variety of ailments. Modern science confirms most of the popular uses.
The main active compund that gives chili peppers their intensity when ingested or applied topically is capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide). Several other related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids, work in synergy to the same effect.
Chili contains vitamin A, C, B6, and folate. When ripe and red, it contains significant amounts of beta carotene. The hot fruit is also an important source of phosphorus, iron, sodium, magnesium and silica. They are also rich in lycopene, lutein, and zeaxantin - compounds that help fight free radicals in the body.
Regular intake of chili peppers delays oxidation of serum lipids, and lowers and improves insulin and glucose profiles following a meal, both of which contribute to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Australian researchers also demonstrated that the amount of insulin required to lower blood sugar after a meal is reduced if the meal contained chili pepper. When chili was consumed on regular basis, the insulin requirements dropped even more.
The benefits of chili may even increase with a higher body mass index - an obesity indicator. In obesse individuals, chili not only significantly reduces the amount of insulin required to lower blood sugar levels after a meal, but it also results in a lower ratio of C-peptide to insulin, an indication that the rate at which the liver is clearing insulin has increased.
The levels of C-peptide in the blood also indicate how much insulin is being produced by the pancreas. The pancreas produces proinsulin, which splits into insulin and C-peptide when it is secreted into the bloodstream. Each molecule of proinsulin breaks into one molecule of C-peptide and one molecule of insulin. Lower levels of C-peptide indicate that less insulin has been secreted into the bloodstream. Since chili positively affects this ration, regular consumption of chili may help prevent adult diabetes.
Capsaicin improves the ratio of bad versus good cholesterol in blood and stimulates the liver enzyme responsible for the fat metabolism.
Scientists found out that chili stimulates blood circulation and is a great anticoagulant. Both, capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin reduce platelet aggregation and the activity of blood clotting proteins in blood samples. Regular consumption of hot peppers may help reduce the risk of thrombosis and prevent stroke.
A team of scientists found out that capsaicin has the potential to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in the cells of the prostate cancer. The cancer cells alter their genetic information to avoid the genetically programmed apoptosis. Capsaicin demonstrated the ability to interfere with this maneuver and slow the proliferation of the cancer cells and the development of prostate tumors.
Hot peppers can provide some relief for cold and sinus problems because capsaicin has as expectorant effect. It increases lung function and facilitates the elimination of mucus.
There is a strong scientific evidence that capsaiconoids in chili boost metabolic rate. This brings hope to many who wish to lose weight. Chili stimulates receptors in the bowel when a spicy meal is eaten and increases thermogenesis. Increased heat means increased energy expenditure and thus the boost to the metabolic rate. It must be said, however, that excessive consumption of hot chili peppers may irritate stomach in sensitive individuals. A safer option for weight loss is available on the market in form of a non-irritant capsaicin pill.
Capsaicin has been used externally with great success to control pain. Such conditions as painful joints, arthritic inflammation, muscle pain, athletic injuries, and frostbite improved considerably with topical application of capsaicin containing ointments. Scientists in Scandinavia found out that capsaicin increases the DNA synthesis and triggers production of pain suppressing collagenase and prostaglandin.
Since capsaicin improves blood circulation, hot chili may be used as an aphrodisiac. It is wise, however, to avoid contact with the genitalia as the stinging may have an adverse effect.
Adding a little chili to daily meals not only makes a bland diet tastier and more appealing, but, most importantly, helps prevent disease and improve many degenerative conditions associated with aging.
By Dominique Allmon
*Information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease.
Health Benefits of Chili Peppers by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.