Spicing Things Up Can Improve Your Health

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Published March 1, 2008

“Dear Pharmacist,

I came to a local talk you gave in my city and was impressed with your vast knowledge of nutrition. You mentioned the spice cayenne pepper and that it may normalize cholesterol. I never thought of spices as anything but for flavoring foods. Tell me more about cayenne and other spices that behave like medicine.”

–V.F., The Villages, Florida

ANSWER: I often mention cayenne pepper at talks because it’s cool! Chili peppers and jalapenos create a little ‘heat’ in the body, and this medicinal effect is fantastic for some people, especially those with circulation problems, like Reynaud’s Syndrome (cold hands and feet). Peppers contain “capsaicin,” which soothes digestive disorders. Go figure. But it’s true. Naturopaths traditionally use cayenne to relieve indigestion, gas, nausea and promote gastric secretions. Here’s an easy way to make a spicy tea. Try a cup of hot water with a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and some honey once a day.

Think of hot peppers when you have a cold. It will very quickly open up a stuffy nose for obvious reasons. Drink it as tea, don’t snort it please! Some holistic practitioners prize the pepper for its ability to fend off cardiovascular disease. Remember, it improves blood flow to the arteries so this isn’t so farfetched. Some docs even claim that cayenne pepper tea should be used in heart attack victims. As wild as that sounds, I can’t deny the fact that cayenne pepper is a blood thinner and works similar to anti-coagulant drugs like Coumadin (warfarin), heparin, aspirin, Plavix and so forth. I’m not saying to substitute it for medicine; by all means, stick to your regimens. But it’s certainly food for thought.

When chili pepper cream (Zostrix, Capzasin) is applied to the skin, it can numb the sensation of pain one feels with conditions such as psoriasis, or diabetic and shingles-related neuropathy. These creams, which can be purchased at pharmacies, should be fine to use along with prescribed Lyrica, Cymbalta, Neurontin (gabapentin) and other oral medications. Please don’t ever apply pepper cream to open lesions and wash your hands well after application.

As for other spices that help heal the body?  Yes, indeed, here are a few more of my favorites:

Oregano: Acts as an antibiotic and anti-fungal.
Cilantro: Grabs heavy metals like mercury and aluminum and clears them from the body.
Rosemary: Acts like a COX 2 inhibitor similar to Celebrex so it may ease arthritis. Also confers protection against breast cancer.
Cardamom: Hello cardamom, goodbye Cialis. The Middle Eastern spice is an aphrodisiac and increases circulation to important parts, eh hem. You find it in Chai-spiced teas and coffee.
Saffron: Very pricy because the center (or stigma) of the saffron flower is handpicked, that’s why it looks wiry. Saffron helps relieve asthma, promote sleep and enhance memory.
Cinnamon: Helps balance blood sugar.
Ginger: Nausea and morning sickness.

Did You Know?
A new study from Purdue University suggests that people who eat foods containing artificial sweeteners (saccharin) may overeat and be more prone to obesity.