Capsaicin is the ingredient found in different types of peppers, such as cayenne peppers, that makes the peppers hot. Capsaicin is trans-8-methyl-N-vanillyl-5 nonenamide, a naturally occurring alkyl vanillylamide and a type of capsaicinoid. Capsaicin and several related compounds are called capsaicinoids and are produced as a secondary metabolite by certain plants of the genus Capsicum (chile peppers), probably as deterrants against herbivores. There are two main capsaicinoids, capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin and three minor capsaicinoids, nordihydrocapsaicin, homocapsaicin and homodihydrocapsaicin.

The chili pepper, red pepper and paprika are all species of capsicum. Capsicum is the dry powder obtained by grinding up the fruits of these plants. Capsicum oleoresin (or capsaicin oleoresin) is the liquid concentrate extracted from the dry powder. Capsicum has recently been officially defined in the USP 23 where it is defined as the dried ripe fruit of Capsicum frutescens Linne or Capsicum annum Linne. Capsaicin is the most pungent of the capsaicinoids, followed by dihydrocapsaicin. Pure capsaicin is a lipophilic colorless odorless crystalline to waxy compound. It is very soluble in fats, oils and alcohols. Capsicum also contains a red coloring matter, oleic acid, palmitic acid and stearic acid.

Capsaicin health benefits

Capsaicin is used in topical ointments to help relieve a certain type of pain known as neuralgia. Capsaicin is also used to temporarily help relieve the pain from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Neuralgia is a pain from the nerves near the skin
surface. This pain may occur after an infection with herpes zoster (shingles). It may also occur if you have diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is a condition that occurs in some persons with diabetes. The condition causes tingling and pain in the feet and toes. Capsaicin will help relieve the pain of diabetic neuropathy, but it will not cure diabetic neuropathy or diabetes. Capsaicin works by first stimulating and then decreasing the intensity of pain signals in the body. Substance P is believed to be involved in two processes central to arthritis. By blocking the production and release of substance P, capsaicin can reduce the pain associated with arthritis as well as dampen the transmission of pain messages to the brain.

Capsaicin acts as an antioxidant, protecting the cells of the body from damage by harmful molecules called free radicals. Capsaicin also may help prevent bacterial infections. When peppers are eaten or taken as a dietary supplement, capsaicin may improve digestion by increasing the digestive juice in the stomach and by fighting bacteria that could cause an infection. Capsaicin may help prevent heart disease. It may stimulate the cardiovascular system and lower blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure. It also helps prevent clotting and hardening of arteries (atherosclerosis). Capsaicin may also thin mucus and help move it out of the lungs. It is also thought to strengthen lung tissues and help to prevent or treat emphysema