Cayenne is a shrub that originated in Central and South America and now grows in subtropical and tropical climates. Its hollow fruit grows into long pods that turn red, orange, or yellow when they ripen. The fruit is eaten raw or cooked, or it is dried and powdered into a spice that has been used for centuries in meals and medicines.
What is It Made of?
Capsaicin is the most active ingredient in cayenne. Other important ingredients include vitamins A and C, and flavonoids and carotenoids, pigments that give red, yellow, and orange plants their color and have antioxidant properties.
As a spice, cayenne may be eaten raw or cooked. Dried cayenne pepper is available in powdered form, and you can add it to food, or stir it into juice, tea, or milk. It is also available in capsule form or in creams for external use. Creams should contain at least 0.075% capsaicin.
How to take it
DO NOT apply capsaicin cream to cracked skin or open wounds.
DO NOT give cayenne to children under 2. However, with caution, capsaicin ointment may be used on the skin for older children. DO NOT use topical cayenne ointments for more than 2 days in a row for a child.
Speak to your health care provider regarding dosing instructions.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. But herbs can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs under the supervision of a health care provider.
Cayenne does not dissolve easily in water, so it is hard to wash off. Use vinegar to get it off the skin. Capsaicin cream may cause an itching, burning sensation on the skin. These symptoms tend to go away quickly. Test capsaicin cream on a small area of your skin before extended use. If it causes irritation, or if your symptoms do not get better after 2 to 4 weeks, stop using it.
DO NOT use capsaicin with a heating pad, and DO NOT apply capsaicin cream immediately before or after a hot shower. After using capsaicin, wash your hands well and avoid touching your eyes. If you are using cayenne around children, make sure they wash their hands thoroughly after handling cayenne and DO NOT touch their eyes or nose.
Capsaicin capsules may cause stomach irritation. People with ulcers or heartburn should talk to their provider before using capsaicin. Eating too much capsaicin could cause stomach pain.
People who are allergic to latex, bananas, kiwi, chestnuts, and avocado may also have an allergy to cayenne.
Eating cayenne in food is considered safe during pregnancy. But pregnant women should not take cayenne as a supplement. Cayenne does pass into breast milk, so nursing mothers should avoid cayenne as a supplement.
Capsaicin may make some of the dangerous side effects of cocaine worse.
DO NOT use capsaicin on open wounds or broken skin.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use cayenne supplements without first talking to your doctor.
ACE inhibitors: Using capsaicin cream may raise the risk of developing a cough, which is one of the side effects of ACE inhibitors. These medications are used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension). People who take ACE inhibitors should talk to their doctor before taking cayenne. ACE inhibitors include:
- Captopril (Capoten)
- Elaropril (Vasotec)
- Fosinopril (Monopril)
- Lisinopril (Zestril)
Stomach acid reducers: Capsaicin can increase stomach acid, making these drugs less effective. These drugs include:
- Cimetidine (Tagamet)
- Esomeprazole (Nexium)
- Famotidine (Pepcid)
- Omeprazole (Prilosec)
- Ranitidine (Zantac)
- Over-the-counter drugs such as Maalox, Rolaids, Tums
- Nonprescription versions of Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac, and Prilosec
Aspirin: Capsaicin may make aspirin less effective as a pain reliever. It may also increase the risk of bleeding associated with aspirin.
Blood-thinning medications and herbs: Capsaicin may increase the risk of bleeding associated with certain blood-thinning medications such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), and herbs such as ginkgo, ginger, ginseng, and garlic.
Medications for diabetes: Capsaicin lowers blood sugar levels, raising the risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). If you have diabetes, ask your doctor before using capsaicin.
Theophylline: Regular use of cayenne may cause your body to absorb too much theophylline, which is a medication used to treat asthma. This could be dangerous.
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