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The potential health benefits of capsaicin, including weight loss and reduction of inflammation.

Capsaicin For Weight Loss And Against Inflammation

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Capsaicin’s Hot Benefits

Capsaicin, the compound in hot peppers that makes them spicy, is a chemical irritant and a neurotoxin. However, humans being humans, we decided to eat them for fun.

In contrast to many other ways in which humans recreationally enjoy things that are objectively poisonous, consuming capsaicin (in moderation) is considered to have health benefits, such as aiding weight loss (by boosting metabolism) and reducing inflammation.

Let’s see what the science says…

First: is it safe?

Capsaicin is classified as “Generally Recognized As Safe”. That said, the same mechanism that causes them to boost metabolism, does increase blood pressure:

Mechanisms underlying the hypertensive response induced by capsaicin

If you are in good cardiovascular health, this increase should be slight and not pose any threat, unless for example you enter a chili-eating contest when not acclimated to such:

Capsaicin and arterial hypertensive crisis

As ever, if unsure, do check with your doctor first, especially if you are taking any blood pressure medications, or otherwise have known blood pressure issues.

Does it really boost metabolism?

It certainly does; it works by increasing oxygen consumption and raising body temperature, both of which mean more calories will be burned for the same amount of work:

Dietary capsaicin and its anti-obesity potency: from mechanism to clinical implications

This means, of course, that chili peppers enjoy the status of being functionally a “negative calorie” food, and a top-tier one at that:

Chili pepper as a body weight-loss food

Here’s a good quality study that showed a statistically significant* fat loss improvement over placebo:

Capsaicinoids supplementation decreases percent body fat and fat mass: adjustment using covariates in a post hoc analysis

*To put it in numbers, the benefit was:

  • 5.91 percentage points lower body fat percentage than placebo
  • 6.68 percentage points greater change in body fat mass than placebo

See also: Difference between percentages and percentage points

For those who prefer big reviews than single studies, we’ve got you covered:

The Effects of Capsaicin and Capsiate on Energy Balance: Critical Review and Meta-analyses of Studies in Humans

Does it really reduce inflammation?

Counterintuitive as it may seem, yes. By means of reducing oxidative stress. Given that things that reduce oxidative stress tend to reduce inflammation, and in turn tend to reduce assorted disease risks (from diabetes to cancer to Alzheimer’s), this probably has more knock-on benefits too, but we don’t have room to explore all of those today.

Fresh peppers are best for this, but dried peppers (such as when purchased as a ground spice in the supermarket, or when purchased as a capsule-based supplement) still have a very respectable anti-inflammatory effect:

How much should we take?

It’s recommended to start at a low dose and gradually increase it, but 2–6mg of capsaicin per day is the standard range used in studies.

If you’re getting this from peppers, then for example cayenne pepper (a good source of capsaicin) contains around 2.5mg of capsaicin per 1 gram of cayenne.

In the case of capsules, if for example you don’t like eating hot pepper, this will usually mean taking 2–6 capsules per day, depending on dosage.

Make sure to take it with plenty of water!

Where can we get it?

Fresh peppers or ground spice from your local grocery store is fine. Your local health food store probably sells the supplements, too.

If you’d like to buy it online, here is an example product on Amazon.

Note: options on Amazon were more limited than usual, so this product is not vegan, and probably not halal or kosher, as the capsule contains an unspecified gelatin.

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