Cayenne pepper, the hot pepper that adds a kick to so many spicy dishes, also has a long history as an herbal remedy used to increase circulation, soothe stomach pains and raise metabolism. Its active ingredient, capsaicin, can now be obtained as an ointment or cream to rub on aching joints and muscles. The best-known side effect, whether used on the skin or internally, is the heat.
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Drink with Caution
Those who drink cayenne powder mixed in water should be aware that it will burn while being swallowed and also when excreted. Some prefer cayenne capsules to minimise this effect. For those who want the more direct impact of cayenne powder in water, the wisest course is to begin with smaller amounts, as little as 1/4 tsp of cayenne powder per glass of warm water. Another helpful idea is to keep a second glass of water nearby to dilute any burning effect in the mouth. Those who continue to use cayenne usually find that their bodies adjust and can tolerate larger doses without sensitivity.
External Use Tips
When beginning to use ointments and creams containing capsaicin, it is best to begin by testing on a small area of skin. Be sure to use only on unbroken skin. After rubbing it on, if the heat proves to be too much, the cream or ointment can be removed using dish detergent or baby shampoo. Wiping down with rubbing alcohol after washing will ensure that all the capsaicin has been removed. Mucous membranes are particularly sensitive, so be careful to avoid touching your eyes or nose after handling cayenne powder or capsaicin cream.
Cayenne has been successfully used to treat ulcers, but too large of a dose may inflame them, so patients with ulcers, heartburn or gastritis should use it in small doses cautiously, and seek medical advice for any gastric distress.
Allergies to Cayenne
An allergy some people develop, called "Latex-fruit syndrome," can include cayenne. These allergens are found in cayenne as well as banana, chestnut, avocado, mango, kiwi and natural rubber items such as latex gloves, condoms and balloons. Symptoms include skin rashes or hives, abdominal pain and vomiting, and severe headaches.
Deadly Nightshade Toxicity
Although not technically an allergy, many people are genetically unable to process solanine, a mildly toxic chemical found in all plants in the deadly nightshade family. Cayenne is a nightshade, as are potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and all peppers including bell peppers, chilli peppers and paprika. Symptoms of nightshade toxicity can be rashes, stomach upset, headaches, joint pain, muscular weakness, pain or spasms. For those who suspect that their symptoms might be caused by nightshade sensitivity, staying away from those foods for a few weeks or months should allow the body to clear out the solanine.
Cayenne has been found to interact with blood thinners, antacids and aspirin, so those considering taking cayenne who have serious medical conditions and who use those prescription or over-the-counter drugs should first consult with their health-care provider.
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