January 21, 1997 -- University Park, Pa. --- The healing properties of red pepper or capsicum are being rediscovered by modern medicine, notes the January issue of the Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter.
Studies at Yale and the National Cancer Institute have recently shown the pain-relieving effectiveness of capsaicin, a crystalline substance found in red pepper.
Capsaicin seems to work this way. Pain causes nerve cells to release a chemical called Substance P, which sends pain signals to the brain. Topical creams containing capsaicin stimulate these nerve cells to release more Substance P than normal. This in turn depletes the amount of Substance P in nerve cells and thus decreases the number of pain signals sent to the brain.
The combination of less Substance P and fewer pain signals leads to diminished pain and improved mobility of affected joints in some people, according to the Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter.
Some athletes and dancers use capsaicin in topically applied creams to reduce the pain of osteoarthritis, but studies verifying this particular treatment have not yet been published.
The only side effect of capsaicin use is a burning sensation when the cream is first applied to the skin.
The Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter is a monthly publication of Penn State's Center for Sports Medicine. For more information, write to: Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter, P.O. Box 3073 Langhorne, PA 19047-9377.
EDITORS: Penn State's Center for Sports Medicine can be reached at (814) 865-7107.