Cayenne is also known by the common names African Pepper, American Pepper, Bird Pepper, Cockspur Pepper, Goat's Pepper, Pod Pepper, Garden Pepper, African Red Pepper, Capsicum, and Chili Pepper. Originally from South America, the cayenne plant has spread across the globe both as a food and as a medicine. The potent, hot fruit of Cayenne has been used as medicine for centuries. It was considered helpful for various conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, including stomachaches, cramping pains, and gas.
The principal active ingredient in cayenne is capsaicin, an oily, irritating phytochemical that can cause a burning sensation on initial contact with the skin. 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.
Cayenne's primary chemical constituents include capsaicin, capsanthine, beta carotene, flavonoids, and vitamin C. Cayenne causes the brain to secrete more endorphins. It is considered thermogenic, meaning it can "rev up" metabolism and aid in weight loss. Cayenne also improves circulation. Cayenne helps to relieve pain, not only due to its endorphin enhancing properties, but also when diluted and used topically it helps to block the transmission of substance P, which transports pain messages to the brain.
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. 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.