Cayenne pepper is a hot chili pepper in the Capsicum family that is frequently added to dishes to enhance their flavor.

This article looks at the nutritional content of cayenne pepper, its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more cayenne pepper into the diet, and any potential health risks.

This feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.

Fast facts on cayenne pepper

Here are some key points about cayenne pepper. More detail is in the main article.

  • The chili originated in Central and South America, and it is named after a city of the same name in French Guiana.
  • Cayenne pepper has been a part of Native American cuisine and medicine for at least 9,000 years.
  • Many of the health benefits of cayenne pepper are attributed to the ingredient capsaicin.
  • The pepper contains vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, potassium, manganese, and flavonoids.
  • Open wounds or breaks in the skin should not be exposed to capsaicin.

Spice mix in a jar.Share on Pinterest
Cayenne pepper is a versatile spice that can be added to many different meals easily.

Cayenne peppers are closely related to jalapeño peppers and bell peppers and are a staple in Southwestern American and Mexican cuisine, as well as Cajun and Creole cooking.

The thin, red pepper has a deceptively mild smell but a powerful, fiery taste.

The peppers are often dried and ground to make a powdered spice used for seasoning. The peppers are also used in their whole form in Korean, Sichuan, and other Asian cuisines.

Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne peppers, gives the powder its spiciness and is used to treat aches and pains of the muscles and joints.

Cayenne pepper has also been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines to help treat circulatory problems and increase appetite.

Cayenne pepper may have a range of health benefits.

Relieving pain

Capsaicin, the active ingredient found in cayenne peppers, may have pain-relieving properties.

One review of research into cayenne pepper's ability to reduce pain, concluded that it may have benefits as a long-term analgesia, without bringing about other sensory changes.

Capsaicin has also been shown to reduce the amount of substance P, a chemical that carries pain messages to the brain. With less substance P, fewer pain messages reach the brain, and less pain is felt.

Creams or ointments containing 0.025-0.075 percent purified capsaicin have been shown in several double-blind studies to reduce the pain and tenderness caused by osteoarthritis. The suggested use for chronic pain is to apply the topical cream or ointment four times daily to the site of pain. However, there are reports of side effects.

Animal studies have also shown a decrease in pain when taking capsaicin orally or by injection.

Capsaicin is currently used in topical ointments and creams to relieve pain and tenderness from osteoarthritis, nerve pain from shingles, pain after surgery, pain from diabetic neuropathy, and lower back pain.

Capsaicin has been investigated in relation to cancer treatment and pain relief related to cancer. It appears to be effective in reducing pain. However, conflicting results have shown that it may help prevent cancer, or that it may promote tumor growth. Caution is recommended.

Burning calories and suppressing appetite

There are many products containing cayenne pepper that claim to boost metabolism and promote weight loss. However, not all scientific studies agree. Researchers at Purdue University found that cayenne pepper consumption increased core body temperature slightly, which would, in turn, burn calories.

Modest reductions in appetite were found in another study after the ingestion of 10 grams of cayenne pepper. However, this was a large dose, and it would need to be repeated at each meal.

No follow-up studies have been carried out to show whether these small effects result in weight loss.

The results of the research revealed that those who mixed cayenne pepper with their food burned an additional 10 calories 4 hours after eating their meal compared with those who did not add cayenne.

Many studies have looked at cayenne or capsaicin combined with other ingredients, so the ingredient responsible for results cannot be differentiated. More research is needed before cayenne or capsaicin is used as a weight-loss supplement.

Relieving congestion

Cayenne pepper is often used as a home remedy for coughs, colds, and congestion. There are no studies to support this use, but cayenne may help to temporarily relieve congestion by shrinking the blood vessels in the nose and throat.

One popular home recipe combines 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of water to take by the teaspoon. Other people mix cayenne pepper and apple cider vinegar into a hot tea to clear the sinuses.

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one tablespoon of cayenne pepper, weighing 5.3 grams (g) contains:

  • 17 calories
  • 0.64 g of protein
  • 0.92 g of fat
  • 3 g of carbohydrates, including 1.4 g of fiber and 0.6 g of sugar.
  • 8 mg of calcium
  • 0.41 mg of iron
  • 8 mg of magnesium
  • 16 mg of phosphorus
  • 107 mg of potassium

Other nutrients include vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, and folate. It is also high in flavonoids and carotenoids, which give the spice its red color.

Cayenne is a versatile spice that can be added to everything from fish to eggs, soups, casseroles, tacos, and pasta.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Add cayenne pepper to spice mixtures such as curry or barbecue rub
  • Make a homemade dressing using part oil, part vinegar, cayenne pepper, and other seasonings
  • Spice up your marinades by adding cayenne pepper

Or, try these healthful and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:

Spicy Indian salmon

Spicy honey-glazed pork chops

Fish tacos with peach jalapeño slaw

Fresh Texas salsa with green hatch chilies

Cayenne pepper is commonly used in combination with lemon juice and water as part of a detox diet. There is little research to support the use of detox diets.

Capsaicin cream should not be applied to open wounds or broken skin. It is not recommended for children under 2 years of age.

Use gloves when applying capsaicin cream and be sure to wash your hands after use. You may experience a burning sensation where the cream is applied. Avoid contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth. Capsaicin cream should not be used with a heating pad or before or after a hot shower.

Capsaicin capsules may cause stomach irritation and increase stomach acid. People with ulcers or heartburn should talk to their doctor before using capsaicin. Take caution if deciding to use a supplement containing capsaicin. Supplements are not regulated and may or may not contain what they claim.