What is capsaicin?
Hot peppers and its primary active component Capsaicin as an anticancer agent
WHAT IS CAPSAICIN?
If you ever wonder what's the active constituent in hot peppers that gives them such a hot and spicy flavor this article will answer that.
We all have tried at least once hot peppers, they are known by its intense flavor and hot taste, some of them are almost not edible under normal circumstances, but all of them have something in common, its main active constituent capsaicin, a chemical that has been found to have potential anti-cancer effects for multiple types of cancers. Image: Hot peppers Scott Schopieray under Creative Common license (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Chemical Formula: C18H27NO3
Sources: Hot peppers
CURIOSITY! Capsaicin is insoluble in water, that means that drinking water after having eaten a Chili pepper won't help, but it does dissolve in milk or fatty foods, and you can also try with bread instead.
To answer the question what is capsaicin, we can mention that Capsaicin is responsible for the hot taste given by hot peppers and that the content of capsaicin in hot peppers is directly proportional to their intensity, ranging from the zero level in the Scoville scale of the mild Bell chili peppers to the Naga Jolokia reaching approx. 950,000. But something that not many people knew until now is the effects that capsaicin may have on cancer cells in certain types of cancers.
WHERE WAS CAPSAICIN DISCOVERED?
Capsaicin was discovered in 1816 by Christian Friedrich Bucholz, son of an apothecary and a chemistry researcher who name it capsaicin after the genus Capsicum from which it was extracted . He died two years after, the 9th June 1818. Photograph Chilis by (2010) Dr. David Midgley licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (Capsicum Chinense) is so far the world´s hottest red chili pepper. With a total of 2,009,231 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), a scale measuring the content of capsaicin found in different hot chili peppers, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion will burn your tongue before you notice you have eaten it.
CAPSAICIN AND BREAST CANCER
Capsaicin was able, for example, to induce a significant growth arrest and apoptosis in human breast cancer and leukemia cancer cells in vitro . In another study  where traditional medicinal plants were investigated for their claimed anti-cancerous properties, showed that out of 84 medicinal plants used for their anti-cancerous properties (Aloe vera, Euphorbia tirucalli, and Tabebuia impetiginosa), capsaicin was found to be one of the most recurrent molecules among all active constituents found in those herbs, together with lapachone, silibiniin, β-lapachone and plumbagin. Guggul resin has also certain amounts of capsaicin among its active constituents.
But breast cancer and leukemia are not the only types of cancer on which capsaicin has shown to be effective, in breast cancer capsaicin was found to inhibit cancer cell growth in caspase-3-deficient human breast cancer cells , and in human colon cancer colo 205 cells capsaicin was able to increase the levels of pro-apoptotic proteins. The last one where it showed also a certain effectiveness was tongue cancer cells .
As downside there are other studies claiming the cancerous effect of capsaicin , claiming that long-term topical application of capsaicin can increase skin carcinogenesis in mice.
CAPSAICIN FOR HERPES ZOSTER (SHINGLES) AND POSTHERPETIC NEURALGIA
The use of capsaicin has also been studied in the treatment of herpes zoster (shingles) and postherpetic neuralgia. In one of the studies on the subject Capsaicin was found to be able to shorten the duration of acute herpes zoster and alleviate the pain of postherpetic neuralgia. In both cases capsaicin cream offered moderate pain relief to patients that suffered from postherpetic neuralgia .
CAPSAICIN INCREASES FACIAL SKIN ELASTICITY AND PROMOTES HAIR GROWTH
In another study on the effects of capsaicin on skin elasticity, it was reported that topical application of capsaicin increases facial skin elasticity. Additionally it was also discovered that topical application of capsaicin promoted hair growth by increasing dermal insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) .
 Tumor cell growth inhibition is correlated with levels of capsaicin present in hot peppers. Dou D, Ahmad A, Yang H, Sarkar FH. Department of Pathology, Wayne State University School of Medicine and Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center, Detroit, Michigan 48201, USA.
 Medicinal plants used as antitumor agents in Brazil: an ethnobotanical approach. de Melo JG, Santos AG, de Amorim EL, do Nascimento SC, de Albuquerque UP. Departamento de Biologia, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco, Rua Dom Manoel de Medeiros, s/n, 52171-900 Recife, PE, Brazil.
 The two faces of capsaicin. Bode AM, Dong Z. Authors' Affiliation: The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, Austin, Minnesota.
 Capsaicin may induce breast cancer cell death through apoptosis-inducing factor involving mitochondrial dysfunction. Chang HC, Chen ST, Chien SY, Kuo SJ, Tsai HT, Chen DR. Department of Surgery, Changhua Christian Hospital, Changhua, Taiwan.
 Antitumor activity of capsaicin on human colon cancer cells in vitro and colo 205 tumor xenografts in vivo. Lu HF, Chen YL, Yang JS, Yang YY, Liu JY, Hsu SC, Lai KC, Chung JG. Department of Clinical Pathology, Cheng Hsin General Hospital, Taipei 112, Taiwan.
 Effect of capsaicin on prostate cancer cells. Díaz-Laviada I. Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, School of Medicine, University of Alcala, Alcalá de Henares, 28871 Madrid, Spain
 Capsaicin induces apoptosis in SCC-4 human tongue cancer cells through mitochondria-dependent and -independent pathways. Ip SW, Lan SH, Huang AC, Yang JS, Chen YY, Huang HY, Lin ZP, Hsu YM, Yang MD, Chiu CF, Chung JG. Department of Nutrition, China Medical University, Taichung 404, Taiwan.
 Management strategies for herpes zoster and postherpetic neuralgia. Galluzzi KE. Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, 4190 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19131-1633, USA.
 A case of acute myocardial infarction due to the use of cayenne pepper pills.
Sayin MR, Karabag T, Dogan SM, Akpinar I, Aydin M.
Department of Cardiology, School of Medicine, Zonguldak Karaelmas University, 67600, Kozlu, Zonguldak, Turkey.
 Acute myocardial infarction and coronary vasospasm associated with the ingestion of cayenne pepper pills in a 25-year-old male.
Sogut O, Kaya H, Gokdemir MT, Sezen Y.
Department of Emergency Medicine, Harran University, Sanliurfa, Turkey.
 Thermogenic ingredients and body weight regulation.
Hursel R, Westerterp-Plantenga MS.
Department of Human Biology, Nutrim, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.
 Effects of capsaicin, green tea and CH-19 sweet pepper on appetite and energy intake in humans in negative and positive energy balance.
Reinbach HC, Smeets A, Martinussen T, Møller P, Westerterp-Plantenga MS.
Department of Food Science, University of Copenhagen, Rolighedsvej 30, Frederiksberg C, Denmark.
 Body fat loss achieved by stimulation of thermogenesis by a combination of bioactive food ingredients: a placebo-controlled, double-blind 8-week intervention in obese subjects.
Belza A, Frandsen E, Kondrup J.
Department of Human Nutrition, Centre for Advanced Food Studies, The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Frederiksberg C, Denmark.
 Effect of topical application of raspberry ketone on dermal production of insulin-like growth factor-I in mice and on hair growth and skin elasticity in humans. Harada N, Okajima K, Narimatsu N, Kurihara H, Nakagata N. Department of Translational Medical Science Research, Nagoya City University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Kawasumi 1, Mizuho-cho, Mizuho-ku, Nagoya 467-8601, Japan.
 Herpes zoster and postherpetic neuralgia: prevention and management.
Saint Joseph Family Medicine Residency Program, South Bend, IN 46617, USA. Fashner J, Bell AL.
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