Posts Tagged ‘Capsaicin’

My medicinal chillies

August 26, 2011

Spanish priests in the New World were once a little wary of chillies – considering them an aphrodisiac and something which could inflame passions and therefore possibly a creation of the devil. They preached against indulgence in something “as hot as hell’s brimstone”. The opposition by the priests may have helped chillies gain popularity.

Women drying chillies image: news.bbc.co.uk

Chillies are known to be helpful against hypertension and against pain. They are antimicrobial and aid salivation.  It is thought that capsaicin is an effective defense against a fungus that attacks chili seeds. In fact, experiments have shown that the same species of wild chili plant produces a lot of capsaicin in an environment where the fungus is likely to grow, and very little in drier areas where the fungus is not a danger. Perhaps a liking for chillies is one of the key features distinguishing humans  from other mammals. Family legend has it that my own liking of chillies results from my grandmother coating my thumb in chillie powder as an infant to try and stop me from sucking it!!

But the list of medicinal benefits that chillies can provide is growing.

Now comes evidence in a new paper that chillies are effective against sinus inflammations as well.

Jonathan A. Bernstein, Benjamin P. Davis, Jillian K. Picard, Jennifer P. Cooper, Shu Zheng, Linda S. Levin. A randomized, double-blind, parallel trial comparing capsaicin nasal spray with placebo in subjects with a significant component of nonallergic rhinitisAnnals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 2011; 107 (2): 171 DOI:10.1016/j.anai.2011.05.016

The authors conclude: This is the first controlled trial demonstrating intranasal capsaicin, when used continuously over 2 weeks, rapidly and safely improves symptoms in rhinitis subjects with a significant NAR component.

Science Daily

Hot chili peppers are known to make people “tear up,” but a new study led by University of Cincinnati allergy researcher Jonathan Bernstein, MD, found that a nasal spray containing an ingredient derived from hot chili peppers (Capsicum annum) may help people “clear up” certain types of sinus inflammation. 

The study, which appears in the August 2011 edition of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, compares the use of the Capsicum annum nasal spray to a placebo nasal spray in 44 subjects with a significant component of nonallergic rhinitis (i.e., nasal congestion, sinus pain, sinus pressure) for a period of two weeks.

Capsicum annum contains capsaicin, which is the main component of chili peppers and produces a hot sensation. Capsaicin is also the active ingredient in several topical medications used for temporary pain relief. …. This is the first controlled trial where capsaicin was able to be used on a continuous basis to control symptoms. It is considered a significant advance, “because we don’t really have good therapies for non-allergic rhinitis,” says Bernstein, adding that in previous trials the ingredient was too hot to administer without anaesthesia.

Chilies: The real difference between humans and animals

September 22, 2010

As Paul Bloom, a Yale psychologist, puts it, “Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans — language, rationality, culture and so on. I’d stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce.”

Chilies

From the New York Times:

Indian Jolokia pepper

Jolokia chili

Habaneros are very hot, although there’s a lot of variation. On the standard Scoville heat scale (Bell peppers 0, the hottest Indian jolokia peppers 1,000,000) orange habaneros run 100,000 to 350,000. By comparison, jalapenos can go anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000. Two percent capsaicin bear spray is advertised at 3.3 million units, and pure capsaicin — the chemical that causes the pain — hits 16 million.

Some experts argue that we like chilies because they are good for us. They can help lower blood pressure, may have some antimicrobial effects, and they increase salivation, which is good if you eat a boring diet based on one bland staple crop like corn or rice. The pain of chilies can even kill other pain, a concept supported by recent research.

I can identify with this.  Bring on the vengaya chutney.

My Vengaya chutney:

Vengaya chutney

2 large onions, a fistful of dried red (Indian) chilies, a chunk of ginger, 4 cloves of garlic, 2 Habanero chilies.

Blend together into a paste. Add chilies to suit for colour and heat.

Garnish with a teaspoon each of mustard seeds and urad dal, 2 bay leaves heated for 90 seconds in hot oil.

Serve as relish on anything and with everything.

  • Spread on bread and serve grilled or roasted
  • spread on bread when making sandwiches
  • add a teaspoon to any soup (or any gravy for that matter)
  • spread on any meat before grilling (or after grilling if you prefer the raw heat)
  • add a tablespoon while tossing pasta
  • eat traditionally as an accompaniment to idlis and dosais.

The NYT continues:

Others, notably Dr. Paul Rozin at the University of Pennsylvania, argue that the beneficial effects are too small to explain the great human love of chili-spiced food. “I don’t think they have anything to do with why people eat and like it,” he said in an interview. Dr. Rozin, who studies other human emotions and likes and dislikes (“I am the father of disgust inpsychology,” he says) thinks that we’re in it for the pain. “This is a theory,” he emphasizes. “I don’t know that this is true.”

But he has evidence for what he calls benign masochism. For example, he tested chili eaters by gradually increasing the pain, or, as the pros call it, the pungency, of the food, right up to the point at which the subjects said they just could not go further. When asked after the test what level of heat they liked the best, they chose the highest level they could stand, “just below the level of unbearable pain.” As Delbert McClinton sings (about a different line of research), “It felt so good to hurt so bad.”

The story of how chilies got their heat is pretty straightforward. A recent study suggested that capsaicin is an effective defense against a fungusthat attacks chili seeds. In fact, experiments have shown that the same species of wild chili plant produces a lot of capsaicin in an environment where the fungus is likely to grow, and very little in drier areas where the fungus is not a danger.

The fact that capsaicin causes pain to mammals seems to be accidental. There’s no evolutionary percentage in preventing animals from eating the peppers, which fall off the plant when ripe. Birds, which also eat fruits, don’t have the same biochemical pain pathway, so they don’t suffer at all from capsaicin. But in mammals it stimulates the very same pain receptors that respond to actual heat. Chili pungency is not technically a taste; it is the sensation of burning, mediated by the same mechanism that would let you know that someone had set your tongue on fire.

No one knows for sure why humans would find pleasure in pain, but Dr. Rozin suggests that there’s a thrill, similar to the fun of riding a roller coaster. “Humans and only humans get to enjoy events that are innately negative, that produce emotions or feelings that we are programmed to avoid when we come to realize that they are actually not threats,” he said. “Mind over body. My body thinks I’m in trouble, but I know I’m not.” And it says, hand me another jalapeño.

Other mammals have not joined the party. “There is not a single animal that likes hot pepper,” Dr. Rozin said. Or asPaul Bloom, a Yale psychologist, puts it, “Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans — language, rationality, culture and so on. I’d stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce.”

As James Gorman, the author of the NYT article puts it:

A taste for chilies has no deep meaning, no evolutionary value. It’s just a taste for chilies. I might add, though, that since it takes such a complicated brain and weird self-awareness to enjoy something that is inherently not enjoyable, only the animal with the biggest brain and the most intricate mind can do it. Take heart, chili heads. It’s not dumb to eat the fire, it’s a sign of high intelligence.


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