Q&A: Cayenne, Kidneys, and Estrogen

Health Professionals Answer Readers' Questions

| March/April 1998

It’s not unusual to see different responses to cayenne
—Robert Rountree, M.D.

In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. Medical doctor Robert Rountree and herbalist Rosemary Gladstar respond for this issue.

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Q. My husband and I both take cayenne capsules (40,000 units). We also bought a cayenne ointment for pain in my husband’s shoulder. When he used it, he felt a burning sensation on his shoulder and on the hand he had used to apply the ointment.

When I tried it myself, I didn’t feel anything, not even on my hand. Why and how could this be?
S. S.
Loveland, Colorado

A. Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum) contains a substance called capsaicin, which is responsible for the sensation of heat that occurs when it is eaten or rubbed on the skin. It appears to work by releasing substance “P” (for pain), a chemical messenger that activates pain fibers.

Capsaicin has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of arthritis and neuritis by ­initially elevating substance P in sensory nerves and then depleting it, which results in an overall decrease in pain. Unfortunately, the burning reaction is part of the process—it is simply an indicator that the capsaicin is working. Most people find this effect unpleasant but tolerable; however, a few patients need to add a topical anesthetic such as lidocaine.

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