Health benefits of chillies
There’s no getting away from it, chillies do have their health benefits as we will discover but not everyone is as tolerant to that hot fiery burning sensation when eaten, and you do have to be careful when consuming spicy foods. Food is meant to be enjoyable, and if it wasn’t this website wouldn’t exist, but let us be careful with food that can bite back.
Enjoy with caution. Here are some of the health benefits and some words of caution to be considered.
A brief explanation about the Scoville Scale
The intensity of heat in chilli peppers is measured by the Scoville Scale which was developed in 1912 by a pharmacist called Wilbur Lincoln Scoville. To put this into perspective and give you some kind of benchmark, a bell (sweet) pepper has a score of zero on the Scoville Scale whereas pure capsaicin can surpass 15 million Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
Just in case you’ve not eaten a sweet bell pepper or tried pure capsaicin, a jalapeno which is found on most pizzas can range from 2,500 to 8,000 SHU while a scotch bonnet can be upwards of 350,000 SHU. Ghost chillies are even hotter at a cool (excuse the pun) 900,000+ SHU and as of 2007, according to the Guinness World Records, certified the world’s hottest.
Since then the Naga Viper registered 1.35 million SHU, Trinidad Scorpion now ranked the 5th hottest at 1.5 million SHU and the world’s hottest as of 2016 is the Carolina Reaper at a fiery 2.2 million SHU.
An Indian curry such as a chicken jalfrezi, which uses a Green Chile pepper registers around 70,000 SHU, and tastes pretty hot to me.
Chillies can provide pain relief
Capsaicin can alleviate pain in part by depleting your body’s supply of substance P which is a chemical component of nerve cells responsible for transmitting pain signals to your brain. It also works by de-sensitizing sensory receptors in your skin.
As a result, it is used in topical (surface applied) pain relieving creams and patches, of which some contain the equivalent of 10 million SHU. It is actually the intense burning sensation that, quite ironically, ultimately relieves pain. Being exposed to the capsaicin for long enough causes the pain nerve cells to become exhausted having depleted their internal chemical stores. The nerve cells are no longer able to respond to capsaicin or anything else which might cause pain, and so you are no longer able to perceive pain, this is why chronic exposure to capsaicin acts as an analgesic.
Chillies possess cardiovascular benefits
Capsaicin chemically boosts heart function in two ways. Firstly it lowers bad LDL cholesterol levels by reducing accumulated cholesterol in the body and increases its breakdown and resulting natural excretion while not affecting levels of good cholesterol, and secondly it blocks the action of a gene which makes arteries contract restricting the flow of blood to the heart and organs.
Cultures where hot pepper is used liberally have a much lower rate of heart attacks, strokes and pulmonary embolisms.
Chillies reduce congestion
Have you ever eaten spicy food and that that suddenly your stuffy nose was clear? Capsaicin has shown through study to reduce sinus symptoms such as nasal congestion, rhinorrhoea, and sneezing, coughing, and mucous production.
So, when faced with yet another cold reach for the chillies. Keep in mind that bell peppers contain no capsaicin so eating these, although taste good, won’t have any beneficial affect but cayenne, jalapeños, tabasco, birdseye chili, habaneros, and Scotch bonnets all contain high levels of capsaicin.
Chillies boost immunity
The bright colour of red chilli peppers signals its high content of beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A.
Just two teaspoons of red chili peppers provide about 6% of the daily value for vitamin C coupled with more than 10% of the daily value for vitamin A. Often called the anti-infection vitamin, vitamin A is essential for healthy mucous membranes which line the nasal passages, lungs, intestinal tract and urinary tract and serve as the body’s first line of defence against invading pathogens.
In moderation, eat more red chillies.
Chillies can kill cancer cells
Capsaicin has been found to kill cancer cells. In fact, in the last few years the research on chilli peppers has focused on many organs including the pancreas, brain, prostate, colon and breast.
There has been many studies on chilli pepper’s ability to fight off cancer cells in many cancer affected organs, and among them, the 2006 study on prostate cancer cells drew more interest from researchers. The experiments conducted on the compound capsaicin reveal that this compound specifically targeted the tumours and cancerous cells without affecting the healthy cells.
Chillies prevent stomach ulcers
It’s always been believed that eating chillies was the cause of gastric ulcers in view of its irritant and likely acid secreting nature. People with ulcers where advised to reduce or avoid altogether ingesting chillies.
However, investigations carried out in recent years have revealed that chilli or its active principle capsaicin is not the cause for ulcer formation but a benefactor. Capsaicin does not stimulate but inhibits acid secretion, stimulates alkali, mucus secretions and particularly gastric mucosal blood flow which help in prevention and healing of ulcers. Capsaicin acts by stimulating afferent neurons in the stomach and signals for protection against injury causing agents.
Chillies help you to lose weight
After you’ve eaten chillies, the heat you feel requires energy resulting in calorie usage. Capsaicin significantly increases thermogenesis (heat production) in your body, which is a process where your body burns fuel such as fat to create heat which in turn has beneficial impacts on your metabolism and fat burning potential.
Research suggests that consuming thermogenic ingredients may boost your metabolism by up to 5 percent, and increase fat burning by up to 16 percent. It may even help counteract the decrease in metabolic rate that often occurs during weight loss.
A word of warning about eating chillies
All the research suggests a moderate intake of chilli and not excessive increases in our daily diet.
Poisonous chemical compounds such as aflatoxin produced by certain molds and found in spoiled chillies are carcinogenic and can cause cirrhosis or carcinoma of the liver, immune suppression, stomach and colon cancers.
Personal intolerance to capsaicin, the chemical found in chillies responsible for the ‘heat’ can irritate the mucous membranes such as the inside of the mouth, eyes, tongue, oesophagus, stomach and digestive tract, hence the burning sensation felt both on consumption and excretion. The cramps felt are caused by your spasms in your digestive tract because of the irritation caused by the capsaicin.
The effects of such pain can be alleviated by consuming cold yoghurt which helps reduce the burning pain by diluting capsaicin concentration and preventing its contact with mucosal walls.