MadSci Network: Anatomy

Re: Does red peppers contain something that can help heal an open wound faster?

Date: Mon Dec 11 09:57:24 2000
Posted By: Michael Maguire, Faculty,Case Western Reserve Univ.
Area of science: Anatomy
ID: 973184314.An

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 

6.  The most objective site I've found is the following:

7.  Specific research papers that suggest that capsaicin has not real 
effect on wound healing and may in fact retard wound healing are as 

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.
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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