Are Chile Peppers Good for your Health?
Written by: Claire Reynolds
Chile peppers of all varieties are known for being tasty, spicy, and a wonderful addition to many meals, but are these small, fiery fruits actually more important than they let on? Definitely! Chile peppers are a type of Capsicum plant which contain Capsaicin - a natural compound that can really help to boost health. They are also one of the most vitamin rich fruits on the planet. While the true health benefits of chile peppers are only just starting to become apparent in Europe and North America, the fruits have played a major role in Chinese, Bahamian, and Mayan medicine for centuries.
Believe it or not, chile peppers can actually awaken your appetite, encouraging you to eat a healthy diet. Capsaicin is an irritant (as you’ll know if you’ve ever rubbed your eye after cutting the fruits!), and this essentially tweaks your digestive system, causing it to become more awake, alert, and hungry for food. Need proof? No problem. One study has found that saliva production - the result of the body preparing itself to digest food - rises from an average 3.5 cc per 5 minutes to a whopping 14.8 cc! While you may be wondering how an appetite stimulant can be a health aid, it’s actually very beneficial in helping to regulate mealtimes of those suffering with eating disorders, particularly those with starvation disorders such an anorexia nervosa. In more extreme conditions, the body is so accustomed to starvation that even if the sufferer wants to make changes, it can be a physical challenge. Natural appetite stimulants such as chile peppers remove some of the initial obstacles of treatment.
It is believed that one of the main uses of chile peppers by the Mayans was as an anti-bacterial food that killed off some of the primary bacterium that caused ill health. Two of the most common bacteria that chile peppers have been found to protect against are Bacillus Cereus and Bacillus Subtilis, both of which are often contracted through the soil and can contribute to food-borne illnesses. Bacillus Cereus, for example, is frequently found in rice dishes that have not been stored correctly, and can make those who digest it very ill. While the exact ways in which chile peppers can protect against bacteria are unknown, it is widely believed that they prevent, or at least delay, the growth of the bacteria in the stomach, so that by the time the bacteria has grown strong enough to produce illness, it has already been excreted by the system.
There is much debate in the scientific world regarding whether or not chile peppers are beneficial in the fight against cancer, or could actually contribute to the growth of tumours. Argument against chile peppers seems to stem from high instances of stomach cancer in countries where chile peppers are consumed readily, such as Mexico, but this appears to disregard other aspects of traditional Mexican cuisine, such as high salt and oil content, and the fact that smoking and drinking is very common in Central America. Arguments for the use of chile peppers as an anti-carcinogenic seem to be much more stable. Some researchers claim that chile peppers can halt the growth of tumours by literally suffocating them. Although more research needs to be carried out, it appears that capsaicin smothers cancer cells, stopping them from breathing, and eventually killing them.
One health benefit of chile peppers that is widely acknowledged, and rarely subject to debate, is their anti-inflammatory properties when applied topically. Although applying capsaicin directly to the skin can be a little painful and can produce a mild burning effect, it can actually be very good for muscle and joint complaints, such as arthritis. Arthritis occurs when a muscle or joint becomes inflamed, and it makes movements very painful, or quite restricted. Studies have found that applying a capsaicin-based cream directly to the problem areas can reduce pain by up to 57 percent.
Harvest at the Right Time
If you’re interested in using chile peppers as a health aid, you’ll want to make sure you’re consuming the right types of fruit, at the right level of maturity. If you’re looking for antioxidant qualities, good for all-round health, opt for yellow wax or ancho peppers rather than jalapenos. Similarly, you may also wish to harvest your fruits when they reach the green stage of maturity, rather than yellow, orange, or red, as it is believed the green peppers have greater anti-bacterial effects. Whichever pepper you choose, take a moment to savour the great, fiery flavour - it’s delicious!
Read more about chile peppers here.