Cayenne pepper is more than a spice you add to your favorite dish if you want to give it a bit of a kick. It contains incredible medicinal properties that can be used for everything from weight loss to blood clot prevention and improved circulation. While it might seem hard to digest, cayenne pepper is also useful for your gut. It has been shown to reduce intestinal gas, stomach upset, diarrhea, and even cramping. Got a toothache? How about the pain caused by shingles? Did you drink too much last night? Cayenne pepper can help with these, too.

The shrub gets its long list of benefits from its impressive nutritional profile, and a little bit goes a long way. One teaspoon of cayenne contains 17 calories, 1 gram of fat, 3 grams of carbs, and 1 gram each of sugar and protein. It also includes about 44 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A, 8 percent of vitamin E, and 7 percent or less of vitamins C, B6, and K, as well as magnesium and potassium. Here are 22 benefits of cayenne pepper we bet you didn’t know about.

1. Prevent Cancer Tumors

Studies show that the active ingredient in cayenne pepper known as capsaicin may have anti-cancer properties. One study found that capsaicin may help inhibit the growth of cancer cells and prevent new ones from forming. Specifically, the study found that cayenne pepper may be especially beneficial in helping prevent lung cancer in people who smoke or have smoked in the past. This is because the vast amounts of capsaicin found in cayenne can stop the formation of tumors in the lungs due to tobacco use. Another study indicated that similar results were noted in research that involved liver tumors and prostate cancer. While some people find that taking capsaicin in supplement form helps, you can also get the same benefits by adding it to dishes.

2. Improves Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin condition characterized by itching patches of red skin. It occurs when your skin cells replicate very fast, and dead skin cells cannot be cleared from the surface quickly enough before new ones are formed. This causes a buildup of scaly patches of red, swollen skin. Research shows that 0.025 percent capsaicin from cayenne pepper cream can be used topically to treat psoriasis. One study found that subjects with psoriasis who used cayenne pepper for six weeks had a significant decrease in the redness and scaling associated with their condition. Another study from the same source indicated that when the capsaicin cream was used four times a day for six weeks, it significantly decreased thickness, redness, itching, and scaling of the subject’s psoriasis patches.

3. Reduces Migraines

It might sound strange, but cayenne pepper can help relieve your migraine pain by causing you to feel pain in different parts of your body, which diverts your attention away from your migraine. Before you write this method off as something you’d never try, consider that some research indicates you can reduce your pain levels by merely using brain power anyway. For example, if you perceive your pain as not as bad as it really it, it may help reduce your actual levels. Additionally, you’ll minimize substance P or the nerve pain chemical from the nerve fibers in the area where the pain is detected. In other words, you tricked your brain to feel less pain. Talk about using your brain.

4. Prevents Blood Clots

Cayenne pepper can be used to prevent blood clots, which helps support your heart health. Blood clots are blockages that occur in your blood vessels and arteries. They limit blood flow throughout your circulatory system and make it harder for your heart to pump. Additionally, limited blood flow throughout the body may also increase your risk of stroke. Blood carries oxygen and other vital nutrients throughout your body, so you don’t want to mess with this system. Cayenne pepper prevents blood clots by encouraging fibrinolytic activity. Capsaicin is also good at clearing away lipid deposits that narrow your arteries and dilating them so that blood is free to flow through without any blockages.

5. Removes Toxins

If you’ve ever looked at some of the ingredients listed in a detox beverage, you may have noticed that it contains cayenne. This is because cayenne contains antioxidant properties that clear toxins out of the body. Removing toxins helps improve your skin health. It also improves the efficiency of your digestive tract, blood flow, and metabolism. For a yummy detox drink, try combining two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, two tablespoons maple syrup, and a pinch of cayenne pepper to a glass of water. Some people as many as eight glasses a day to clear out their system and reboot their metabolism. You can also use this as a one-time drink concoction if you just want a quick pick-me-up. Avoid the maple syrup if you’re watching your sugar intake.

6. Lowers Blood Pressure

Your blood pressure may go up if you’re stressed, inactive, or if you eat a poor diet. It’s a widespread condition. In fact, approximately 40 percent of people over the age of 25 have it. Adding cayenne to your daily diet is one thing you can do to lower your levels. One study found that mice with high blood pressure who ate capsaicin daily reduced their blood pressure levels. Another study found that capsaicin helped relax blood vessels in subjects, which lead to lower blood pressure. Although these trials were animal studies, they show promising results that if you eat a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods, it may help reduce your blood pressure, which has many benefits for your heart.

7. Reduces Hunger

Several studies have found that eating cayenne peppers can help reduce your hunger, make you feel full for longer, and help you eat less. Although the mechanisms are not exactly understood, it appears that cayenne minimizes the release of the hunger hormone ghrelin that prompts you to eat. One study (12) found that cayenne pepper helped decrease appetite in Japanese women and total energy intake in Caucasian men. Additionally, the researchers related cayenne pepper to an increase in sympathetic nervous system activity in the Caucasian male group. Another study found that people who took capsaicin supplements ate 10 percent less on average than a control group while those who drank a beverage that contained capsaicin reduced their energy intake by 16 percent.

8. Boosts Metabolism

In addition to helping you eat less, cayenne pepper may also boost your metabolism. It does so by increasing the amount of heat your body produces, which helps you burn more calories throughout the day, according to one study. This heat-induced process is known as thermogenesis, and it quite literally heats up your metabolism. One study found that people who ate a breakfast that contained capsaicin and medium chain triglyceride oil (which helps you absorb the capsaicin) burned 51 percent more calories while eating that meal. This was compared to people who did not eat either MCT or capsaicin for their breakfast. Other studies show that the metabolism-boosting effects of capsaicin are small, but hey, any little bit helps, right?

9. Heals Ulcers

Ulcers are irritating, but luckily, cayenne pepper is an anti-irritant that helps eases the pain. This is because it inhibits acid secretion, and stimulates mucus and alkali secretions, particularly gastric mucosal blood flow, to help prevent and heal ulcers. One study found that capsaicin helps stimulate neurons in the stomach. It also signals for protection against agents that cause injury. If you want to enhance your protection against ulcers further, then ease up on the NSAIDS. Ironically, you can use cayenne pepper to help relieve your pain instead. Try adding some to your favorite stir-fry dish for a tasty kick.

10. Improves Digestion

It might seem like the heat from eating cayenne pepper could do some damage to your gut, but the opposite is true. Cayenne pepper helps stimulate your salivary glands, which is where the digestive process begins. It also encourages enzyme production to help the digestive system break down foods. By stimulating gastric juices, cayenne pepper encourages the body to metabolize foods and toxins. Research shows that cayenne may also be able to protect the stomach against infections by stimulating specific nerves in the stomach that protect it against injury. If you have an upset stomach or intestinal gas, try adding a pinch of cayenne pepper to your next meal. It can also be used to ease, soothe or prevent stomach ulcers.

11. Supports Eye Health

If you’ve ever been told to eat lots of carrots to boost your eye health, it’s because of the high vitamin A content. Cayenne pepper contains a lot of vitamin C, too, so if carrots aren’t your thing, you can try the spicy stuff instead. Vitamin A is also needed to keep your brain and skin healthy. It works as an antioxidant in the body to reduce toxins and inflammation that cause chronic disease, such as macular degeneration. Vitamin A can also help foster cell growth. So not only does it help reduce damage to existing cells, but it also encourages new, healthy cells to form. Two teaspoons of cayenne pepper a day provides you with your full recommended intake of vitamin A for the day.

12. Contains Anti-fungal Properties

Capsaicin isn’t the only compound in cayenne pepper that’s good for your health. CAY-1 is another company that has benefits. Specifically, research shows that its effective against 16 different fungal strains. The best part is that unlike many medications, cayenne is non-toxic, so it’s safe for animals. Fungal infections can show up on your skin, such as in in the case of ringworm. Yeast infections, jock itch, and athlete’s foot are all common types of fungal infections. To double your protection against fungal diseases, you can apply a topical cream or add the spice to your food.

13. Contains Antibacterial Properties

Like fungal infections, bacterial infections can be a pain. Food poisoning is a great example. It occurs when you eat something that has been contaminated with bacteria. Research shows that cayenne pepper can be used in place of traditional preservatives such as the harmful synthetic kinds to keep your food fresh and healthy. You can also use the antibacterial properties of cayenne to keep your body free from harmful bacteria that cause colds, digestive problems, and skin infections. Try adding some to a meat-based dish that you plan on making in large amounts so that you can safely store the leftovers in your refrigerator for up to one week without fear of it going bad.

14. Reduces Toothache Pain

Toothache pain is the worst. Just ask anyone who has ever had dental work done. Because of its ability to reduce substance P in nerve fibers, cayenne can be used topically to control tooth pain. While using cayenne alone won’t make your cavity go away, it can certainly help get you through a painful time until the dentist can see you. Try applying an over-the-counter capsaicin cream to your tooth or make your own at home by mixing the inside of a capsaicin capsule with some coconut oil and applying it directly to the pained tooth.

15. Inflammation Reducer

The next time you feel pained from an inflammatory injury or condition, don’t reach for any over-the-counter medicine. One study found that cayenne pepper was just as effective as the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac at reducing inflammation. Plus, it doesn’t come with the adverse side effects that often accompany a synthetic drug. Authors of the study found that cayenne pepper could be used as an alternative analgesic or anti-inflammatory agent to reduce inflammatory pain. Try using some the next time an old sciatic injury flares up or when the pain from rheumatoid arthritis is too much to bear.

16. Repair Damaged Skin

Because of its high vitamin E content, cayenne pepper can be used as part of your beauty regimen. Along with vitamin C, vitamin E helps restore collagen levels, which is a protein needed to give skin its elasticity. Vitamins C and E are also antioxidants, and they have been shown to reverse skin damage caused by excessive UV rays. So if you’ve been in the sun for too long or are worried about modifying those sun spots you acquired from your 20’s, then cayenne can help. Add some to your diet and apply a topical cream to problem areas to reduce wrinkles. Watch out for your eyes though. Cayenne is one spice you don’t want to accidentally get into sensitive areas!

17. Promotes Longevity

Can cayenne pepper extend your life? Some research suggests that it can. One study that used data from nearly half a million subjects found that people who ate foods containing cayenne pepper had a 14 percent chance of living a longer life than people who don’t eat the spice. Further research shows that this might be due to cayenne’s ability to reduce the number of deaths from heart problems, cancer, and respiratory problems. You don’t have to eat a lot to reap the benefits, either. Results from the study showed that eating it a few days out of the week was better than eating it only once a week.

18. Reduces Allergies

Allergies occur as a result of an allergic reaction to a particular pollutant. In most cases, people get allergies when the seasons change due to a high pollen content. Because cayenne contains potent anti-inflammatory properties, you can use it to calm down these reactions. It’s also a great food to eat when you need relief from food allergies as it detoxes the system and reduces inflammation while stimulating processes that get the food irritants out of your gut. Leaky gut syndrome occurs when food particles pass through the intestinal barrier and cause inflammation. Cayenne can help calm down this inflammation and return your digestive health to normal (you’ll also want to eliminate the food culprit from your diet, too).

19. Stimulates Orgasms

Because of its ability to increase circulation, you can use cayenne to heat things up in the bedroom. Men who have problems getting erections can use cayenne to stimulate blood flow to their penis while women who have problems achieving an orgasm can benefit from the same increase in blood flow. Do not apply cayenne topically to sensitive areas. In this case, it’s best to add cayenne to your diet or take it as a supplement.

20. Reduces Anxiety

Can a spicy food make you feel calmer? Some research says it can. According to researchers at Colgan Institute, cayenne stimulate the production of endorphins in your brain to block pain signals and make you feel good. This can help relieve anxiety and depression.

21. Boosts the Immune System

With its high vitamin C and beta-carotene content, cayenne pepper contains antioxidants that can be used to help boost your immune system and ward off the common cold or flu. It also helps break down mucus, which can assist with congestion when you have a cold to provide nasal relief. Eliminating mucus from the body means that you get the germs out quicker, so your symptoms will disappear sooner. Also, cayenne pepper increases your body temperature, which can help you sweat and fire up your immune response. Try some capsaicin in supplement form if adding it to food doesn’t sound good to you while you’re sick.

22. Increases the Taste of Healthy Foods

This one might seem silly, but anyone who struggles with healthy eating will appreciate it. Cayenne can help make your vegetables taste better, which means you’ll be more likely to eat them. Not excited about that chicken and vegetable stir fry you have waiting at home for you for dinner tonight? Add a pinch of cayenne to the dish and give it a pop. You’ll forget all about that fast food you wanted instead!

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