In the search for pain relief, a few options always surface, including prescription pain medicines, over-the-counter pills, and natural alternative painkillers. As covered in a recent article, 17 natural pain relievers, capsaicin is one of these tried-and-true natural therapies.
In this article I will expand on the use of capsaicin and give you all the latest medical science on using this ancient and beloved red hot chili pepper pain therapy.
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The Dangers of Prescription and OTC Painkillers
Pain can be very disheartening, impeding daily physical activities and taking its toll on our emotional health, as well. Physicians these days seem to have no qualms at all about prescribing pain killers, especially opiate drugs such as hydrocodone, OxyContin, and Vicodin.
However, because of the serious dangers of drug addiction, prescription pain medicine should be avoided at all costs.
Trading relatively minor pain today for the significantly worse pain of drug addiction, detox, and withdrawal is not an acceptable alternative.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Advil and Ibuprofen, block a specific enzyme that produces inflammation.
Acetaminophen, also known as Paracetamol, blocks hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins which are known to cause pain. Over the long-term, all of these medicines cause digestive problems, commonly leading to painful peptic ulcers.
Although OTC pain relievers are not addicting, trading one pain today for a worse pain tomorrow is not a healthy alternative, either.
The best alternatives for pain relief are healthy, natural therapies that have been known for centuries and tested since ancient times. Passed from generation to generation, many natural pain therapies have now undergone medical research in modern times, confirming their ancient reputations.
The Healthy Red Hot Chili Pepper
Capsaicin, also known as capsicum, is the compound in the chili pepper that is responsible for both its spicy flavor and its medicinal properties. The level of capsaicin is highest in the hottest peppers. The beloved red hot chili pepper is packed with antioxidant flavonoids and carotenoids that help protect against cellular damage leading to inflammation, diseases, and cancers.
Capsaicin’s uses in traditional medicine range from aiding digestion and circulatory troubles, to relieving cramps and diarrhea.
Creams and ointments containing capsaicin can be purchased in health stores and pharmacies.
Typically containing 0.025 – 0.075 percent capsaicin, this cream can be applied to painful areas of the body one to four times daily.
Why Capsaicin is Effective
Creighton University Professor Philip Gregory reports that “best results can take up to 2 weeks.” Dr. Gregory, who is also the editor of the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, points out that “Current formulations are better suited for more acute problems, like a sore muscle or an arthritis flare-up, than everyday pain and stiffness.”
Several medical studies have been conducted on capsaicin, confirming its effectiveness for arthritis, shingles, neuropathy, and other painful conditions.
A University of Oxford study found that around 40 percent of arthritis patients using topical capsaicin cream for a month achieved a 50 percent decrease in pain. In the same study, it took two months of daily use for around 60 percent of neuropathy patients to achieve a 50 percent reduction in pain.
Migraine and other headache patients at the New England Center for Headache also reported relief after applying capsaicin cream within their nostrils.
The chemical effect initiated by capsaicin temporarily numbs skin nerve receptors called C-fibers. In turn, this depletes the nerve cells of substance P, which is responsible for sending pain signals to the brain. Perception of pain is blocked from these nerve receptors, and thus from the brain.
Repeated use of capsaicin cream can extend this effect sometimes for three to five weeks following treatment because it can take this long for the nerve cells to recover full functionality.
Aristotle’s Philosophic Conclusion on Pain
For nearly one out of every five of us, pain is an everyday situation we must deal with. Finding ways to handle pain without falling victim to prescription drug addiction and OTC side effects is not always easy.
The ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle must have suffered from his share of pain, too, because he spent enough time dwelling on it to conclude:
“The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure but to avoid pain.”
Returning to ancient pain relievers from natural substances is a great way to follow Aristotle’s ancient advice.