How Chile Relieves Diabetic Neuropathy and Nerve Pain

It is very ironic that something so HOT as chile could provide such amazing pain relief to millions of people. Sometimes you see it spelled as chili or chilli but no matter what culture you live in the same thought comes to mind: HOT!

Chile gets it’s heat from an alkaloid compound called “capsaicin” which mostly in the seeds of the pepper. That reminds me, if you don’t want your guacamole hot, leave out the seeds from the jalapeño. There’s actually a method of classifying the heat in peppers, based upon the work of Professor Wilbur Scoville, a chemist who worked for the drug company Parke Davis in 1912. It’s called “Scoville” units, and sweet bell peppers measure out at zero Scoville units, compared to the bum-burning potential of a Ghost pepper of 1,000,000 Scoville units! Lightweights like me enjoy Habanero which rolls in at approximately 300,000 Scoville Units. Pure capsaicin ranks in at 15,000,000 Scoville units.
(If you want to see where your favorite pepper ranks in terms of heat, visit “How Hot Are My Chiles?”)

When you compare a chile to an orange, ounce for ounce, the chile actually has more vitamin C!

Capsaicin preparations may be able to help you if you have nerve pain, which is termed “neuropathy.” This nerve pain sometimes goes hand in hand with syndromes like post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), autoimmune disorders or diabetic neuropathy. Now let’s talk about how putting the ‘flame’ on pain helps reduce it!  Weird I know. 

When capsaicin is applied to the skin it causes a brief initial sensitization, where you might feel some pain, but if you do it properly, it shouldn’t be painful. After a few applications, there is a desensitization of the local pain nerves.

In other words, the pain may still be there, but you don’t feel it because your nerves are a little numb to it. This effect occurs through repeated stimulation of TRPV1 (transient receptor potential vanilloid-1) nerve fibers. These heat-sensing fibers alert you when you’ve put your finger on the stove! A study in Diabetes 2012, tested the hypothesis that dietary capsaicin (yes dietary, as in eating foods prepared with peppers, or using liquid extract supplements, etc), regulates glucose homeostasis by waking up these TRPV1 receptors. It’s like a football pass, it’s not actually the TRPV1 receptors… it is more that those ‘pass the ball’ and signal GLP-1 secretion from your intestinal cells/tissues (your digestive tract).  The animal study showed how mice fed a capsaicin-enhanced diet for about 6 month and experienced increased GLP-1 and insulin secretion. It improved insulin levels, lowered blood glucose and improved glucose tolerance.

This study suggests there’s a promising approach for diabetes with hot stuff. Does it mean you want to take cayenne extract every day? I don’t think so, although you can. I have that at my house just in case a visitor ever has a cardiac issue. But this capsaicin story speaks to something broader that we can all do. Sprinkle cayenne in your guac, it’s really good. Put habanero in your scrambled eggs, maybe take that blackened chicken a little hotter next time 😉

A 2013 study in Current Medicinal Chemistry  showed that resveratrol eases diabetic neuropathy too, but this herb is taken orally, it’s not a cream. Resveratrol was once thought to sweep up free radicals, and that’s all but today we know it activates SIRT1 and Nrf2 antioxidants, while shutting the flood gates to your pain-causing NF Kappa B pathway. I taught you this in my diabetes book in 2010.  Diabetes is a global epidemic, and very little is known about curing it. One of the painful problems is neuropathy. Over time, resveratrol protects against pins and needle sensations, numbness and neuronal cell death.

Resveratrol is one ingredient in GlucoScript capsules, my patent-pending supplement intended to support you if you have symptoms or suffer from the ravages of insulin dysfunction and blood sugar dysregulation. 

As it pertains to shingles or Post-Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN), capsaicin seems counter-intuitive because your skin already hurts. Blisters from this virus can be excruciating and can last for months in some people.

The prescription Qutenza 8% Patch is available, however it is derived from a synthetic form of capsaicin. There are OTC patches available in all pharmacies.  

In a human study of 250 patients with diabetic neuropathy, half were given capsaicin cream and half were given a plain moisturizing placebo cream. Satisfactory treatment of this debilitating disorder (which can lead to amputations) has escaped physicians for decades. 

Patients receiving capsaicin cream enjoyed a nearly 70 percent reduction in neuropathic pain symptoms (after the initial transient burning of course). Controlling blood sugar and other cytokines is key to reducing diabetic neuropathy pain, so in case you missed my recent article entitled, The Signs of Diabetes Mimic Thyroid Disease, CLICK HERE.

If you’d like to read another article I wrote on chile pepper, “Hot Stuff Can Heal You, Make a Date With Chile Pepper”




  1. Deanna September 3, 2015 at 9:08 pm - Reply


    Could capsaicin cream work for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy? It’s a neurological disorder. Diabetic neuropathy sounds sort of similar, though RSD pain is a lot more extreme. It does feel a little like shingles pain (and the weird crawling sensations are similar), but RSD pain is much more extreme burning pain.

    Mine is in my foot and leg, and is under fairly good control if I’m careful. I have to keep it elevated so fluid doesn’t build up, so I can’t sit or stand in one spot too long, and also can’t overdo walking, or do anything that puts much impact on it. It’s exacerbated by my having an ordinary pinched nerve as well as fasciitis in the same foot.

    Thanks for anything you can say! It’s been super tough to find any natural treatments for it. Even the functional medicine doctor I recently found didn’t have much to say.

    • Deanna September 11, 2015 at 6:47 pm - Reply

      Suzy, I just wanted to say thanks for letting my comment through. Now there’s a chance someone who knows about RSD will see it. And I’m going to check out the Neuragen you mentioned below.

      • Suzy Cohen September 12, 2015 at 4:27 am - Reply

        Hi Deanna
        Look what I found! IVIG is one option:
        And curcumin reduces TNF and interleukins, but you’d have to take more than what is recommended on the labels. Please ask doc.
        And then I looked up bromelain and/or proteolytic enzymes. And apparently those can be helpful as well. Do a word-find to see the list
        on this article:
        Low dose naltrexone too! LDN article here:
        Suggest going off gluten, dairy and sugar, see what happens.
        Keep me posted okay. I wish you well. This took me an hour to find and I am so hoping and praying something pans out for you!
        Does this give you enough to go on? I hope so. Stay strong!

        • Deanna September 12, 2015 at 7:43 pm - Reply

          Suzy! Thank you so much! I was just searching for more information last night, looks like we were doing the same thing! You must have been up really late or really early. Again, thank you so much! You are just an awesome person! 🙂

          Within the last couple of months I heard that some think RSD is autoimmune related. It really got me thinking, and I’m so glad to think that research is being done and it’s not just “We don’t know what causes it, there’s no cure, and not really any good treatments.” anymore. I’ve had it for 6 years now. The doctors I saw at first had never seen RSD before, they just thought my wound was infected, so it took several months to get diagnosed. When I finally did, and stopped doing all the wrong things (ice, antibiotics, NSAIDS, using a surgery shoe and crutches) and started the right things (massage to desensitize, custom orthotics, keep the foot moving to prevent fluid build up, etc.) it finally started improving. I’m SO much better now. And although it’s still tough to deal with, I am free from the completely mind-blowing pain that made me wish that I was unconscious, or at least could get rid of my foot. 🙂

          You found so much good information, it is plenty to go on, thank you! I am excited that there are several new things that could help! I just found out about LDN as a possible treatment last night, but had no details. I’m going to print out from those articles and ask my functional medicine doctor if she can help me try some of those treatments. And I want to start taking curcumin again. I know it’s supposed to be good for just about everything. I was taking it for pain from injuries I got in a car accident last year. But I have been dealing with kidney stone issues since December and turmeric is very high oxalate. So I’ve just been just waiting to get results from a lab that is testing oxalate levels in the one that I was using.

          If RSD is autoimmune, the gut problems make perfect sense. I know I have gut problems, and probably have since early childhood. I have been completely off dairy since age 10 due to allergy/intolerance, and stopped gluten and all added sugars two years ago. I was never big on sugar anyway, anything besides fruit and sweet veggies is usually too sweet for me. I don’t eat any processed foods and I get organic/grassfed/wildcaught whenever I can. My diet’s pretty limited because of food allergy/intolerance, hypothyroidism, eating low oxalate because of the kidney stones, and my functional medicine doctor said no legumes, no potatoes, and no rice or organic corn which were the last grains left in my diet. And I have genetic high cholesterol, so I’m still trying to figure out the whole healthy saturated fats, animal protein, and dietary cholesterol issue. It’s been kind of rough. 🙂

          Besides everything else- yesterday I bought the Neuragen you mentioned, and my husband loves it for the bulging disc/sciatica pain he’s got right now! And I’m going to try it on my foot.

          I just can’t thank you enough for all you do, and I so much appreciate the prayers.

          • Suzy Cohen September 16, 2015 at 2:24 am

            Your hubby may like this hemp cream, I have a few tubs of this at home, as I never want to be without. I put it on everything pretty much.

  2. Cindy September 4, 2015 at 2:32 am - Reply

    Suzy, thanks for this info. I have chronic back pain from spondylitis and was considering ‘ablation’ therapy but will certainly try a capsaican cream first and foremost.
    I also learned (the hard way) that when bee stings reach that point where the itching is just unbearable, mixing about a half teaspoon cayenne pepper with the same amount of coconut oil and rubbing it over the area provides the most incredible relief! Nothing else would touch the itch until I tried the cayenne, though as you noted, there is an initial burning sensation which quickly goes away.

  3. Bev Moritz September 4, 2015 at 2:43 am - Reply

    How can I get the Gluco Script?

  4. Karen Kuhn September 4, 2015 at 2:44 am - Reply

    Thanks for your informative emails! So with the information above, what insights can you share with someone who has no blood sugar/diabetic/ issues (per my health provider and the Boston Heart Diagnostic Report), but has diagnosed poly-neuropathy? Both of my parents had it, as well as a younger sister (due to chemotherapy says her doctor). None of us are/were diabetic. I don’t have much, if any pain, but a lot of tingling/numbness. Does resveratrol work in such situations? BTW, the only relief I got from shingles and PHN pain was gabapentin. I didn’t like taking it for five months, but it worked. I’m fine now and take 2,000 mg lysine daily as a precaution against a future shingles outbreak.

    • Suzy Cohen September 8, 2015 at 5:52 pm - Reply

      If there is a response to gabapentin, that means upregulating GABA is a good thing (and downregulating glutamate) is also a good thing.
      So with that in mind, anything that reduces glutamate, and raises GABA could help.
      Kavinace does that. It is like natural Xanax but without addictive properties. Sold through doctor’s offices I believe, it is NOT at health food stores.
      I would ramp up immunity.

  5. Michele Malone September 4, 2015 at 2:45 am - Reply

    Hello Suzy- this article caught my eye on a Facebook post. I am currently taking 300 mg of Neurontin (gabapentin) at night for nerve pain caused by muscle cramps. I was diagnosed w Relapsing/Remitting MS 20+ yrs ago. I get the pain during the day also, but if I keep moving it isn’t so bad. I do not take the rx during the day- the side effects are hard to deal with. Dizziness and tiredness- I already have enough of that with the MS. I have been checked for B12 deficiency- none- and my A1C showed no diabetes at all. Do you think capsaicin would work for me? Have you heard of people using it for MS pain?

    Thanks for all you do!
    Michele Malone

  6. Lynn Bakeman September 4, 2015 at 3:24 am - Reply

    Could you also please mention that peppers are in the nightshade family, and some folks should avoid them? We’re struggling right now with my son’s IBD and are suspicious of the potential inflammation of one of his favorite groups of foods (read: potatoes and tomatoes).

    Always helpful to fully educate when you post your blogs!

    Thank you!

  7. Pat Adams September 4, 2015 at 3:31 am - Reply

    I lost my leg below the knee due to PVD two years ago. After countless adjustments to my prosthetic, I continue to have nerve pain at the bottom of my stump. As my stomach will not tolerate eating chili peppers, will OTC capsaicin cream help me? I am not a diabetic. Your thoughts will be appreciated. Thanking you in advance.

  8. Denise September 4, 2015 at 3:48 am - Reply

    The use of capsaicin cream sounds like a novel approach but use informed caution that it does NOT always provide relief and may elicit extreme pain beyond what the individual is already experiencing.
    Unfortunately, this was the case for my loved one who suffered from PHN for numerous years. Capcaisin was applied under sedation and with topical anesthetic, and when both wore off, the Capcaisin was still very potent, and the pain was unbearable. It never deadened the nerve endings and the PHN continued for years beyond.

    • Suzy Cohen September 8, 2015 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      Wow that must have been so so awful, for both of you. I’ve never heard of this, I bet they used a prescription dose (HIGH) and possibly didn’t apply it in repeated applications, probably just smeared it on in one big giant dose.
      Awwww! Has to be titrated slooowly. Work up to higher doses. Only applied when there is NO pain. You cannot put it on when there is pain or it will make the pain much worse, like lighting it on fire. Somebody didn’t know what they were doing over there!

  9. Robert Gordon September 4, 2015 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    Does your Glucophage Script work for hypoglycemia as well?

    • Suzy Cohen September 8, 2015 at 5:29 pm - Reply

      I would say that there are some ingredients in it that could help with hypoglycemia, but overall, it is intended to LOWER blood sugar so if you attempt it, please use only 1 capsule or half a capsule and see how you do. And I must ask you to tell doc and get her/his blessings.

  10. kag September 4, 2015 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    The article was great, good information. But the picture of the woman and the red chili is disgusting and vulgar. Please don’t do that again. Thanks.

  11. SALLY HARTMAN September 4, 2015 at 7:25 pm - Reply

    can you help to rebuild the sheft over the trigeminal nerve?

    • Suzy Cohen September 8, 2015 at 5:28 pm - Reply

      Sam had TN for a year, put some key words in my search box. Going gluten free can help, sometimes it is infectious like in his case, he has Lyme disease. Put all these terms in my search box.

  12. John pascoe September 4, 2015 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    I have a mild case of neuropathy -I’m not diabetic-what do you recommend.?

  13. Barbara September 5, 2015 at 1:17 am - Reply

    Dear Suzy,
    Thanks so much for this information. I wondered if there might be a possibility that this patch would also help alleviate phantom limb pain??

  14. Jane September 5, 2015 at 11:38 am - Reply

    Hi, Suzy!
    Would you have any supplements to recommend to someone who has sarcoidosis? My nephew has been diagnosed with this “incurable” condition and is about to go on steroids. Would you have any articles that would have some alternatives? Thanks for your help!
    I had such success with your suggestions for diabetes and would like to help others who feel hopeless about their diagnosis and accept their fate to take drugs for the rest of their lives. Thanks for any help.
    Jane Gagne

  15. Lenny Szubinski September 8, 2015 at 8:14 am - Reply

    Hi Suzy, I eat Sriracha sauce usually with every meal. It has a bit of a kick to it and I love the flavor! Would that be good enough to help with the pain from neuropathy? Also Suzy, I have been following your 3 meal per day plan, with low carbs and sugars and no snaking religiously! I am now peeing less, my unquenchable thirst has greatly decreased, and I need less sleep! All thanks to you! However, my one weakness is Sriracha sauce and it has 1 gram of sugar per serving. Would this be a no-no for me?

  16. Paul.H September 8, 2015 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    we are great lovers of the hot chili peppers. Not only for their unique flavors and heat. But they are healthy for you. ( once you get through the burn).

  17. Lisa Bloomquist September 12, 2015 at 5:34 pm - Reply

    Do you think chili peppers would help for fluoroquinolone-induced neuropathy? On a cellular level, it’s quite similar to diabetic neuropathy. Both diabetes and fluoroquinolone toxicity involve magnesium deficiency and mitochondrial damage (which leads to hormonal disregulation, including insulin). The FDA added the warning of “permanent peripheral neuropathy” to fluoroquinolones in 2013.

    • Suzy Cohen September 16, 2015 at 2:23 am - Reply

      I don’t see why not Lisa, worth a try. Maybe this too, I use it on everything: Hemp Cream
      Maybe lipoic acid too (they say higher doses like 600mg).

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