Cayenne and Diabetes

The potent, hot fruit of cayenne has been used as medicine for centuries. It was considered helpful by herbalists for various conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, including stomach aches, cramping pains, and gas. It was frequently used to treat diseases of the circulatory system. It is still traditionally used in herbal medicine as a circulatory tonic (a substance believed to improve circulation). Rubbed on the skin, it is a traditional, as well as modern, remedy for rheumatic pains and arthritis due to what is termed a counterirritant effect. A counterirritant is something that causes irritation to a tissue to which it is applied, thus distracting from the original irritation (such as joint pain in the case of arthritis).


It contains a resinous and pungent substance known as capsaicin. Topical application of capsaicin relieves pain and itching by acting on sensory nerves. Capsaicin temporarily depletes “substance P”, a chemical in nerves that transmits pain sensations. Without substance P, pain signals can no longer be sent. The effect is temporary. Numerous double-blind trials have proven topically applied capsaicin creams are helpful for a range of conditions, including nerve pain in diabetes (diabetic neuropathy), post-surgical pain, psoriasis, muscle pain due to fibromyalgia, nerve pain after shingles (postherpetic neuralgia), osteoarthritis pain, and rheumatoid arthritis pain.

With the aid of a healthcare professional, capsaicin administered via the nose may also be a potentially useful therapy for cluster headaches. This is supported by a double-blind trial. Weaker scientific support exists for the use of capsaicin for migraines.

Injecting capsaicin directly into the urinary bladder has reduced symptoms of one type of bladder dysfunction (neurogenic hyperreflexic bladder) that results from spinal cord and other nerve injuries. Capsaicin is not known to help other bladder conditions, such as chronic bladder pain. The placing of cayenne or capsaicin products into the bladder has only been performed in clinical experiments and should only be done by a urologist.

Modest reductions in appetite have been found in healthy Japanese women and white men when they consumed 10 grams of pepper along with meals in a double-blind trial. A similar trial found that cayenne could increase metabolism of dietary fats in Japanese women. These trials suggest it may help in the treatment of obesity.

Side effects or interactions

Besides causing a mild burning during the first few applications (or severe burning if accidentally placed in sensitive areas, such as the eyes), side effects are few with the use of capsaicin cream. As with anything applied to the skin, some people may have an allergic reaction to the cream, so the first application should be to a very small area of skin. Do not attempt to use capsaicin cream intra-nasally for headache treatment without professional guidance.

When consumed as food, one pepper per day for many years may increase the risk of stomach cancer, according to one study. A different human study found that people who ate the most cayenne actually had lower rates of stomach cancer. Overall, the current scientific evidence is contradictory. Thus, the relationship between its consumption and increased risk of stomach cancer remains unclear. Oral intake of even 1 ml of tincture three times per day can cause burning in the mouth and throat, and can cause the nose to run and eyes to water. People with ulcers, heartburn, or gastritis should use any cayenne-containing product cautiously as it may worsen their condition.

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