Capsicum Peppers

Scientific names: Capsicum frutescens L, Capsicum annuum L, and a large number of hybrids and varieties of the 2 species. Family: Solanaceae

Common names: The term pepper is generally used for mild varieties, while chili is used for spicy varieties. African chilies, bell pepper, Capzasin-P, Capzasin-HP, capsicum, cayenne pepper, chili, chile or chilli, chilli pepper, jalapeno, Louisiana long pepper, Mexican chilies, paprika, pimiento, red or green pepper, sweet peppers, tabasco pepper, Thai peppers, Zostrix

Efficacy rating:

ÒÒÒ...Positive clinical trials

Safety rating:

...Little exposure or very minor concerns.

What is Capsicum Peppers?

The genus Capsicum consists of many species and varieties; the fruits can vary greatly in color, size, and shape. Taxonomical confusion exists in part due to extensive plant breeding.

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The plant has straight, woody stems and can grow to approximately 3 m tall in tropical conditions. Star-shaped, white flowers are borne in the axils of the leaves, which later become the varied-colored peppers. These fruits contain many flat, white seeds that are the primary source of the chili spice. The Capsicum fruit was probably termed a pepper because of the burning sensation similar to that of black and white pepper spices of the unripened fruit of the unrelated Piper nigrum.

What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

Combination homeopathic and natural preparations contain Capsicum extracts, and Capsicum is used in traditional Korean medicine. Over-the-counter products are marketed for relief of oral discomfort or toothache, external analgesia, as a digestive aid, in menstrual conditions, and in cosmetics as cleansers and bath products.

General uses

Many varieties are eaten as vegetables, condiments, and spices. The component capsaicin is an irritant and analgesic used in self-defense sprays, and in a variety of conditions associated with pain. Other studies have evaluated a role in weight loss, GI conditions, postoperative nausea, and rhinitis, although limited information is available.

What is the recommended dosage?

For external uses, capsaicin and Capsicum creams are available in several strengths, from 0.025% to 0.075% capsaicin. Clinical trials are lacking to guide dosage for other uses.

How safe is it?

Contraindications

None clearly established.

Pregnancy/nursing

Generally recognized as safe (GRAS) when used as food. Safety and efficacy for dosages above those in foods are unproven and should be avoided. Studies in animals have shown both positive and negative effects.

Interactions

Use of capsaicin by patients receiving captopril or other angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors may cause or exacerbate ACE inhibitor-induced cough. Nonheme iron absorption may be inhibited by concomitant chili consumption.

Side Effects

Topical, mucosal, and GI irritations are common. Allergies and cross-sensitization to other allergens have been reported.

Toxicities

Toxicity is evidenced in animal experiments in higher dosages. Controversy exists regarding capsaicin's mutagenicity and tumorigenicity. Toxicity from long-term exposure to chili powder has not been found, and the use of defense sprays likewise has not resulted in reports of toxicity.

References

  1. Capsicum Peppers. Review of Natural Products. Facts & Comparisons 4.0. October 2009. Accessed November 3, 2009.

Copyright © 2009 Wolters Kluwer Health

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