Simple Pantry Solutions: Cayenne
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Simple Pantry Solutions: Cayenne

Looking for something to relieve your aches and pains? Look no further than your spice rack. Cayenne is the hot (literally) alternative to pain relief.

Cayenne contains a compound called capsaicin, which provides hot, mouthwatering (or mouth-burning depending on your taste buds) flavor and purported health benefits. In fact, capsaicin cream is sold as a nonprescription medication for the relief of nerve pain. It seems to work by reducing a chemical involved in transmitting pain signals to the brain.

Healthy Uses for Cayenne

Medical research suggests that cayenne may have the following health-promoting abilities:

  • Relieving pain, such as pain from arthritis, postherpetic neuralgia (a late complication of shingles), back pain, diabetic neuropathy, and nerve pain following surgery.
  • Psoriasis
  • Reducing discomfort of minor digestion (oral use)

However, the most convincing evidence refers only to external use of cayenne for pain relief. If you have a chronic or serious medical condition, you should not simply self-medicate with cayenne. Instead, see your healthcare provider regularly and discuss using cayenne or capsaicin cream to relieve symptoms.

How Much Do I Need and What Kind Do I Take?

To treat localized painful conditions, try applying capsaicin cream (0.025-0.075 percent capsaicin) to painful areas four times daily. Do not apply the cream to the same location for more than 2 to 3 days at a time, to avoid excessive irritation of sensitive nerves.

Precautions When Using Cayenne Medicinally

Cayenne is spicy and can therefore cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and stomach (though it does not worsen duodenal ulcers). Wash your hands after handling cayenne or capsaicin cream to avoid getting it in your eyes. If capsaicin cream or cayenne irritates your skin or stomach, stop taking it. Do not apply cayenne or capsaicin cream to broken or irritated skin, or mucous membranes.

Capsaicin cream may increase the risk of cough in people taking blood pressure medications called ACE inhibitors.

Do not use cayenne or capsaicin cream medicinally for children under two years old.

Although cayenne and capsaicin are considered safe for use during pregnancy, check with your healthcare provider if you intend to use them medicinally during pregnancy or breastfeeding.


American Botanical Council

American Herbal Products Association


Pain Health Info

The Arthritis Society


American Botanical Council website. Available at:

Integrative Medicine Communications website.

National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Accessed March 6, 2006.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: Accessed March 6, 2006.

National Library of Medicine website. Available at: Accessed March 6, 2006.

Last reviewed December 2007 by Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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