Chilli peppers are one of the most consumed spices around the world. Many national dishes contain a form of chilli. Apart from giving food spice and heat, chillies also have a wide range of medical benefits.
These health benefits are a major factor why this spice was used in ancient Indian and Oriental cooking. Before the advent of modern medicine, food was used both to nourish and treat illnesses. Chilli peppers were historically used to improve circulation and respiratory diseases.
The heat of a chilli is measured in “Scoville Units” (SU). The hotter the chilli, the greater the SU score. The SU score varies widely with the different types of chillies. Jalapeno chillies have a score of 2500 – 5000SU. Pimiento chillies score 100 – 500SU, whereas the highest scorers are Habanero and Scotch Bonnet (100,000 – 400,000SU).
Chilli peppers are an excellent source of vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin K, vitamin B1 and beta-carotene.
Chilli peppers help to relieve colds, fevers and flu symptoms. Fresh chilli peppers are also a good source of vitamin C, which could be why they are effective at relieving colds.
Hot chilli peppers have been found to elevate mood. Capsaicin, which is the hot part of the chilli, releases endorphins that provide a temporary high. Endorphins are natural painkillers that are released by the brain and have a similar action to opiates. This may explain why some people get addicted to chilli peppers.
Capsaicin, applied as an ointment or cream is used to treat arthritis and nerve pain. This is used both in conventional medicine and complementary medicine.
Chillies can help to treat asthma and bronchial problems. Dr Irwin Ziment, professor of medicine at the University of California, School of Medicine, recommends chilli peppers, garlic and spicy foods to his patients. He has noticed amazing results with spicy foods, as chillies help to loosen respiratory secretions which relieves lung congestion.
Dr Ziment often urges patients to try ten drops of Tabasco sauce in a glass of water or tomato juice, and then increase to twenty if they tolerate it. He has found that many of his patients are able to cough up secretions.
An added benefit to eating chillies is that it helps to burn more calories faster. Capsaicin helps to speed up the metabolic rate. This is useful for people who want to lose weight and for people with type-2 diabetes.