Capsaicin: A Spicy Supplement That May Deliver Well-Rounded Benefits to Your Health

Capsaicin: A Spicy Supplement That May Deliver Well-Rounded Benefits to Your Health from Mercola

Chili peppers (capsicum annuum) are one of the most common yet important spices in cooking, and is enjoyed by countless people all over the world. While most people believe that they originated from India, China or Thailand — countries that make extensive use of chilies in their cuisine — did you know that they actually originated from the Americas?1

The history of chili peppers goes back to more than 6,500 years ago in the Mexican region.2 Ancient Mexicans extensively used them to spice up their food, and in 1492, it was introduced to the Europeans when Christopher Columbus unexpectedly ended up in America.3

Originally, Columbus wasn’t looking for chili peppers — he was simply looking for another route to Asia to acquire black peppercorns, which were considered luxury items in Europe back then. After he returned with plant samples to the Iberian Peninsula, Portuguese traders brought them around the world for bartering, eventually ending up in Asia and becoming even more widespread.4

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What makes chili peppers unique is capsaicin, the ingredient that gives them their spicy flavor, as well as their unique health benefits. It was first isolated in 1846 by a British Chemist named John Clough Thresh,5 but it was only in 1979 that capsaicin was tested in a scientific environment for therapeutic uses.

Tony Yaksh, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, discovered that repeated topical applications of capsaicin depleted substance P (a signaling molecule), which helped ease irritation and inflammation. Since this discovery, capsaicin has become more prevalent.6

Chili Peppers Are the Best Natural Sources of Capsaicin

If you’re looking to add capsaicin to your diet, chili peppers are your best source. The only exception to this food group is the bell pepper, which has no capsaicin.7 To gain the health benefits of this compound, you need to buy real chili peppers that will give your food that distinctive spicy flavor.

The spiciness of chili peppers is measured using the Scoville Scale, developed by pharmacist William Scoville in 1912. To measure the pepper, it needs to be diluted repeatedly until the strength is not detectable anymore by the human tongue. For example, a jalapeño has a Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) of 8,000, which means it was diluted 8,000 times.8 The table below shows the SHU of the most commonly used peppers in cooking:9

Pepper Scoville Heat Units Description


Typically measures 4 inches long and 4 inches wide, with a shape that resembles a heart. The heat is very mild.

1,000 to 5,000

Maroon in color and has a long, skinny body. The flavor is only slightly hotter than the cherry variety.

2,000 to 8,000

This pepper is usually red or green, with a length of 2 to 3 inches. Many people agree that it gives off the right amount of spiciness, leading to its popularity.

10,000 to 25,000

The appearance is similar to the jalapeño, but with a hotter taste.

25,000 to 50,000

This pepper is popular for spicy food lovers because it adds a noticeable amount of heat.

30,000 to 60,000

This special type of pepper is used to produce the popular Tabasco hot sauce. A single pepper usually measures 2 inches long, and can come in green, red, yellow or orange.

50,000 to 100,000

Typically measuring less than an inch per pepper, Thai peppers pack serious heat. It’s mainly added to spicy Thai dishes.

100,000 to 250,000

The rocoto pepper has a large size similar to the bell pepper, but is rounder and only comes in red or green. It’s usually used to make special hot sauces.

150,000 to 350,000

The habanero is well-known for being one of the spiciest peppers. It can come in various colors, and measures only 3 centimeters in length.


Recognized as one of the hottest peppers in the market, a single seed from a ghost pepper can leave your mouth scorching for up to 30 minutes.

The great thing about chili peppers is their versatility. Depending on the variety you choose, they can be mixed in recipes or added to dips, marinades and salsa to give them the right amount of heat.10 Chili peppers can be part of a nutritious diet, but there are some side effects to be aware of, most prominently the heat they cause once eaten. You may also experience any of the following:11

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