Cayenne pepper is a hot chili in the Capsicum family. People frequently use it to enhance the flavor of savory dishes, and nutrients in the pepper may provide health benefits.
Cayenne peppers are closely related to jalapeño and bell peppers. They are a staple in Southwestern American, Mexican, Cajun, and Creole cuisine. Dried and ground, they make a powdered spice for seasoning and also feature whole in Korean, Sichuan, and other Asian cuisines.
Meanwhile, practitioners of traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines use cayenne pepper in several ways, including to help treat circulatory problems.
The spiciness comes from the pepper’s active ingredient, capsaicin, which is present in many topical preparations for aches and pains in muscles and joints.
In this article, we describe the nutritional contents of cayenne pepper. We also explore possible health benefits, how to incorporate more into the diet, and associated risks.
Cayenne pepper may have a range of health benefits, and people may experience these by using preparations that contain capsaicin or by eating the peppers.
Capsaicin, an ingredient in cayenne pepper, may help with:
- relieving pain
- managing weight
- easing itching
- reducing inflammation
- treating colds and congestion
- protecting the nervous system
Scientific evidence does not support all of the uses above. However, some researchers have found that compounds in cayenne pepper may help in the following ways.
Boosting antioxidant activity
The antioxidants in cayenne pepper include:
- vitamin C, which also supports the immune system
- vitamin E
- beta carotene
- cryptoxanthin, a source of vitamin A
Cryptoxanthin is also a type of pigment called a carotenoid, and it gives the pepper its red color.
Antioxidants offer a wide range of health benefits by helping the body remove free radicals — toxic substances that can cause harm if too many build up.
The body produces some antioxidants, while others come from the diet.
Easing cold symptoms
Some people use cayenne pepper in home remedies for coughs, congestion, and to fight off colds.
Authors of a 2016 review found that capsaicin may relieve symptoms such as sneezing, a stuffy nose, postnasal drip, and congestion when allergies or smoking are not the cause.
Capsaicin may have these effects by shrinking dilated blood vessels in the nose and throat.
Researchers behind a 2019 study involving 46 participants found that capsaicin nasal spray provided “significant rapid and sustainable relief” from the above symptoms — when allergies were not the cause. The improvement started as soon as 10 minutes after using the spray.
Meanwhile, a 2015 study suggested that cayenne pepper may have antibacterial properties. In laboratory tests, scientists found that it combatted group A Streptococci, the type of bacteria responsible for strep throat and other diseases.
To make a home remedy that includes cayenne pepper, a person could try the following:
- Combine 1/4 teaspoon (tsp) of cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp of ground ginger, 1 tablespoon (tbsp) of honey, 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar, and 2 tbsp of water, then taking the mixture by the teaspoon.
- Mix cayenne pepper and apple cider vinegar into hot water, making a tea, to clear the sinuses.
However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to suggest that these home remedies are effective.
Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne peppers, may have pain-relieving properties.
One review published in 2016 looked at the potential for capsaicin in a cream to reduce pain. The authors concluded that there may be benefits to long-term use.
Capsaicin may help alleviate pain by reducing the amount of substance P — a chemical that carries pain messages to the brain.
Creams or ointments containing 0.0125% purified capsaicin may reduce pain and tenderness from osteoarthritis, for example, according to one study. Participants benefitted from applying the cream three times daily to the sites of their pain.
However, some people who try this treatment experience an unpleasant burning sensation as a side effect.
Other research has suggested that taking oral capsaicin supplements may help relieve pain and discomfort in athletes. However, scientists are still investigating how this might work and what dosage might be effective.
There are also concerns that it may cause gastrointestinal distress in some people.
It is important to note that the findings above refer to medicinal rather than dietary uses of capsaicin.
Easing skin issues
Capsaicin appears to have antibacterial properties that help protect the body from Streptococcus pyogenes, or group A Streptococcus. These bacteria can cause skin and soft tissue infections, such as impetigo and cellulitis.
Authors of a 2016 review concluded that capsaicin patches may reduce itching caused by various skin conditions, including psoriasis, as well as itching resulting from dialysis, a process of purifying the blood in people with kidney damage.
Many products that contain cayenne pepper claim to boost metabolism and promote weight loss, but not all the evidence has been conclusive.
One study found that consuming 1 gram (g) of cayenne pepper in a meal increased core body temperature slightly. This, in turn, would burn additional calories. In some cases, participants also had less desire to eat fatty, sweet, or salty foods after consuming capsaicin.
In 2018, scientists gave healthy volunteers a placebo, a 2-milligram (mg) dosage, or a 4-mg dosage of capsaicin for 12 weeks. Those who took the higher dosage experienced a reduction of nearly 6% in body fat, compared with those who took the placebo.
However, many other studies have looked at cayenne or capsaicin combined with other ingredients, so it is not possible to identify the exact role of the pepper compound.
If further research indicates that cayenne or capsaicin helps the body burn calories, the pepper could become a healthful part of a weight management plan.
The table below shows the amount of each nutrient in a teaspoon of cayenne pepper weighing around 1.8 g.
It also shows how much of each nutrient an adult needs per day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020. Needs vary, however, according to an individual’s sex and age.
|Nutrients||Amount in 1 tsp of pepper||Daily adult requirement|
|Carbohydrates (g)||1.0 g, including 0.2 g of sugar||130|
|Vitamin C (mg)||1.4||65–90|
|Folate (micrograms [mcg], DFE)||1.9||400|
|Vitamin A, RAE (mcg)||37.5||700–900|
|Beta carotene (mcg)||393||No data|
|Lutein & zeaxanthin (mcg)||237||No data|
|Cryptoxanthin beta (mcg)||113||No data|
|Vitamin E (mg)||0.5||15|
Cayenne is a versatile spice that goes well with savory dishes. Some people add it to egg or fish dishes, casseroles, tacos, or pasta.
A person might try:
- adding cayenne pepper to a spice mixture when making a curry, barbecue rub, or marinade
- adding cayenne pepper to olive oil, vinegar, and other ingredients when making a salad dressing
Below are some healthful recipes that include cayenne pepper.
Some people drink a mixture that includes cayenne pepper and lemon juice as part of a detox diet. However, there is little evidence that any detox diet has specific health benefits.
Capsaicin can irritate the digestive system.
Spicy foods may be particularly unsuitable for people with:
Many foods can trigger an allergic reaction in some people, but research suggests that a cayenne pepper allergy is rare.
Still, anyone who experiences hives, swelling, or difficulty breathing after eating cayenne pepper should receive immediate medical attention. An allergic reaction may become anaphylaxis, a severe reaction that can be life threatening.
Anyone considering using capsaicin for medical purposes should check with a doctor first.
Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, a compound that gives it its hot taste. Capsaicin may benefit the body in various ways.
However, the evidence for this has come from studies that tested the compound in creams and supplements — adding cayenne pepper to the diet may not have the same positive effects.
Still, many people enjoy the kick that cayenne pepper adds to savory foods, and the antioxidants in the pepper may help protect the body from a range of diseases.
Is cayenne pepper safe for children to eat?
When it’s appropriate to begin offering a variety of foods to children, it’s important to give the child what the family normally consumes.
If cayenne pepper is a typical ingredient for your family, start by adding only small amounts to a child’s diet, since a child’s pain receptors are more sensitive.
Cayenne pepper can be perfectly safe and healthful for children to consume if it is introduced slowly, but watch carefully for any aversions, sensitivities, intolerances, and other reactions.
Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D. Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.