As my interests on the chile chase lie more towards the medicinal/preventative health end of things, AND there seems to be an endless list of ailments that chiles will help to prevent and/or cure, I wanted to offer the following as an introduction to the amazing power of the pepper!
To begin with, all peppers are high in vitamins A, C and K, are a great source of fiber, and red peppers are well endowed with lycopene. Most of the beneficial medicinal properties in chile peppers come from the capsaicinoids found in all species in the genus Capsicum.
It is, as you loyal readers will of course know by now, the capsaicinoids that give chile peppers their heat. The hotter the chile pepper the more capsaicinoids and the greater the potential benefit (or harm!) of a given pepper. It is always possible to overdose of course, so it's no surprise that pepper power must not be over-used or abused when doing a body good.
To understand the amazing versatility of the chile pepper as a remedy or ingredient in a remedy, one must distinguish between the health benefits of eating (ingesting) peppers and the use of peppers in various forms as a topically applied curo - pultices, creams, gels, shampoos, powders, etc.
PEPPERS ON THE INSIDE
Research indicates a diet regularly including hot chile peppers may:
- help to reduce the negative effects of LDL cholesterol (Woo Hoo! Heather can eat butter again!!!)
- help to increase the efficiency of insulin production and use by the body
- help to protect AGAINST stomach ulcers caused by the bacteria H. pylori (by affecting the chemicals the stomach secretes in response to infection)
- help to reduce the risk of food-borne diseases caused by microbial contamination in foods that go unrefrigerated (another "Woo Hoo!" for Heather's endless cause to keep street tacos from wreaking havoc!)
- cause cancer cells to grow more slowly and even die
- increase the capacity to lose weight and therefore reduce obesity
- promote the production and efficient use of insulin, helping to prevent and maybe even combat diabetes
PEPPERS ON THE OUTSIDE
Capsaicin in various topical forms can provide relief from chronic joint pain and arthritis, increase blood flow and promote localized pain reduction at the site of a cut or wound, and help to ease the pain of cluster headaches (a type of migraine) when applied to the head as a cream.
As an ingredient in shampoos, Capsaicin is thought to help promote hair growth. We've consistently found chile shampoos all over Mexico anywhere that hair products/shampoos/soaps are sold, specifically targeted at those who want to have fuller, thicker hair and prevent hair from falling out!
When ground-up, hot chile powder is used to promote localized blood clotting (when applied to the site of a cut) and when applied to the gums on a cotton ball, can reduce the pain associated with some kinds of tooth aches.
As a frostbite preventative, sprinkling hot pepper powder into shoes and gloves can help to increase (and maintain) blood flow to the digits in cold weather.
To induce sneezing and help advance labor during childbirth, some midwives in Northern Mexico suggest inhaling chiltepin powder. In the same region, indigenous women of several tribes will rub chile powder on their nipples to help wean their little ones when the time is right.
PEPPERS ON THE SPIRIT
Hot chile peppers, when eaten, are well known to be a pick me up. The pain response to eating/ingesting the phytochemicals (capcasianoids) that make chiles "hot" causes the body to release endorphins, having a similar effect as a "runner's high." This might explain Kraig's joie de vive!
In some parts of the Americas, pepper tinctures are drunk to keep the memory sharp and to maintain the proper balance of "hot" and "cold winds" in one's constitution. And gents, in Mexico in particular, it is well known that the more chile you eat and the hotter the pepper you can handle, the more macho and, eh hem, "fiery" you'll be with the ladies. We had an 80+ year old sesame farmer from Southern Oaxaca tell us about a "pepper shot" of chile del monte, garlic and lime juice that he drinks every single morning to "maintainer un hombre muy hombre" (to keep a man very manly)!
FOR MORE INFORMATION...
- "The Healing Powers of Peppers: With Chile Pepper Recipes and Folk Remedies for Better Health and Living" (1998) by Dave Dewitt, Melissa T. Stock and Kellye Hunter. Three Rivers Press, pp224.
- "Bush Medicine: Fold Cures with Chile Peppers" by Dave DeWitt (http://www.fiery-foods.com/dave/bushmedicine.html) with some great "recipes" for various kinds of pepper remedies
- Billing J, Sherman PW (1998). "Antimicrobial functions of spices: why some like it hot". The Quarterly review of biology 73 (1): 3–49