|MadSci Network: Anatomy|
1. The primary active ingredient in "red peppers" is a compound called capsaicin. In mammalian cells, it interacts with a type of receptor class called the vanilloid receptors and almost exclusively causes release of a neurotransmitter called "Substance P". Substance P elicits pain from stimulation of peripheral (skin, tissue, rather than directly in the brain) nerves. Thus the burning sensation upon eating hot peppers is due to capsaicin releasing Substance P and activating normal pain pathways. 2. The red peppers in this case are from species of Capsaicum (hence capsaicin). There are NOT the same as the "sweet" bell peppers that are normally green but also come in red, orange, yellow and purple. Rather they are peppers like tabasco, jalapeno, habanero, etc., commonly referred to as chile peppers. 3. Prolonged use of capsaicin will deplete nerve ending of Substance P and under some circumstances actually cause some nerve degeneration. This is not particularly a problem however with normal dietary habits, even with those of us who love hot, spicy food. 4. Because of the depeletion of substance P, particularly in the skin, capsaicin can be used as a topical creme to relieve some aspects of pain. However, too much can actually blister the skin. 5. Searching the Internet, you will find primarily a LOT of sites promoting red peppers/capsaicin for everything from heart attacks to ulcers to wound healing to general vigor and health. There is very little scientific evidence for any effect of capsaicin on these maladies other than anecdotal comments and the personal opinions of those promoting the agent. 6. The most objective site I've found is the following: http://clinical.caregroup.org/altmed/interactions/Herbs/Capsicum.htm 7. Specific research papers that suggest that capsaicin has not real effect on wound healing and may in fact retard wound healing are as follows: Immunopharmacology 1997 Oct;37(2-3):133-52 Sensory neuropeptides: their role in inflammation and wound healing. Brain SD Pharmacology Group, Division of Biomedical Sciences, King's College, London, UK Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 1990 Oct;31(10):1968-74 Effects of capsaicin on corneal wound healing. Gallar J, Pozo MA, Rebollo I, Belmonte C Br J Dermatol 1999 Mar;140(3):400-8 Neuropeptide-containing C-fibres and wound healing in rat skin. Neither capsaicin nor peripheral neurotomy affect the rate of healing. Wallengren J, Chen D, Sundler F Department of Dermatology, Lund University Hospital, Sweden. 8. You can look up these and other articles on MEDLINE. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ Then on the left side, click on "Literature Databases" 9. In short, there's no strong evidence that capsaicin or red chili peppers help wound healing and some reasonable evidence that they retard wound healing.
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