Red Pepper Improves Indigestion
Taking red pepper powder before meals may help reduce symptoms of indigestion (sometimes called “functional dyspepsia”), according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine.1
In this preliminary study, 30 men and women with functional dyspepsia were randomly assigned to receive 2.5 grams of red pepper powder three times a day before meals or a placebo for five weeks. Individuals with a diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or irritable bowel syndrome were excluded from the study. The severity of dyspepsia symptoms, such as stomach pain, stomach fullness, nausea, and changes in appetite, were scored and recorded daily throughout the trial.
The researchers found that those taking the red pepper powder had significantly lower symptom scores (indicating less severe symptoms), compared with those taking a placebo. Nausea, stomach pain, stomach fullness, and overall symptom scores were 38%, 50%, 46% and 48% lower, respectively, in the red pepper group than in the placebo group. These findings suggest that red pepper reduces the severity of functional dyspepsia symptoms.
It is not well understood how red pepper decreases the intensity of dyspeptic symptoms. Some studies suggest the effect may be due to the action of capsaicin, the component of red pepper that makes the eyes water and causes burning in the mouth when ingested. Capsaicin, when applied topically, has an analgesic effect in certain diseases and is believed to deplete a chemical called substance P from the tissues with which it comes in contact.2 3 Substance P transmits pain signals to the brain, but when this chemical becomes depleted, pain signals stop and people experience temporary relief. While depletion of substance P may explain the pain-relieving effect of topically applied capsaicin, there are no studies that demonstrate how red pepper works when ingested. More research is needed to better understand this issue.
Since indigestion can result from several different medical conditions, people suffering from this common problem should consult a doctor to identify the cause. However, in many cases, the cause cannot be determined, and in some of these individuals, taking red pepper powder might be helpful. People who have stomach or duodenal ulcers, undiagnosed heartburn, or gastritis should avoid taking red pepper, as it may make their symptoms worse. People should also be careful not to touch their eyes or an open wound after handling red pepper, as red pepper can be caustic and cause a severe burning sensation.
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April 4, 2002
1. Bortolotti M, Coccia G, Grossi G. Red pepper and functional dyspepsia. N Engl J Med 2002;346:947–8.
2. Capsaicin study group. Treatment of painful diabetic neuropathy with topical capsaicin. A multicenter, double-blind, vehicle controlled study. The capsaicin study group. Arch Int Med 1991;151:2225–9.
3. Watson CP, Evans RJ, Watt VR. Postherpetic neuralgia and topical capsaicin. Pain 1988;33:333–40.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of Garlic and Cholesterol: Everything You Need to Know (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice in Westport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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