Herbal Supplements

Peer Reviewed

Cayenne Plant with Red Peppers

Cayenne, also called capsicum, hot pepper, or red pepper, is a popular herb/spice. This shrub grows fruit in the form of long pods that turn red, orange, or yellow when ripe. The fruit can be eaten raw, cook or dried into a powdered form.

Capsaicin, which makes cayenne taste hot, may help lower body temperature. Cayenne may improve circulation, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, prevent blood clots, and heart disease. Digestion may be improved because cayenne stimulates digestive juices. This herb's antibacterial qualities may help to ward off colds, sinus infections, sore throats, and has expectorant properties (thins mucus).

As a cream, cayenne (capsaicin) is used topically to soothe pain from osteoarthritis, arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Cayenne may initially cause some burning or itching upon application to the skin, although this usually diminishes. At first, the pain may seem heightened. However, cayenne works to reduce the intensity of pain signals. Over the course of a few days these initial symptoms should pass.

Sources of Cayenne
Cayenne is available in the following forms: eaten raw or cooked, powdered, encapsulated, cream (capsaicin brand name creams include Zostrix, Axsain, Capzasin-P). The creams are usually .0.025 to 0.075 percent capsaicin.

Guidelines and Cautions
Follow package directions for use.

  • Keep hands away from face and eyes when handling any cayenne product.
  • Wash hands thoroughly following use. Use vinegar to remove cayenne (does not dissolve well in water).
  • Do not use cayenne if nursing. It is not known if the compounds are transferred through the breast.
  • Prior to cream application, test a small patch of skin for possible reaction.
  • Do not take cayenne if you are currently being treated for high blood pressure.

Disclaimer: Many people report feeling improvement in their condition and/or general well-being taking dietary, vitamin, mineral, and/or herbal supplements. The Editorial Board of, however, cannot endorse such products since most lack peer-reviewed scientific validation of their claims. In most cases an appropriate diet and a "multiple vitamin" will provide the necessary dietary supplements for most individuals. Prior to taking additional dietary, vitamin, mineral, and/or herbal supplements it is recommended that patients consult with their personal physician to discuss their specific supplement requirements.

Updated on: 03/15/16
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Mark R. McLaughlin, MD
While I have had some patients that describe improvement of their symptoms from various dietary supplements, there is little scientific evidence that they work. In small amounts, I do not believe they are harmful, but I am not convinced they are any more effective than adhering to a healthy, well-balanced diet. On the contrary, there is strong scientific evidence showing that patients with a poor overall nutritional status have higher complication rates from surgery.
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The bark and stems may be used medicinally to decrease heart rate, lower blood pressure, slow breathing, reduce bronchial congestion (mucus), reduce fever and swelling, and treat arthritis and psoriasis (ointment form).
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