Capsaicin molecule (see structure of the molecule in the figure below), is an active ingredient in chili peppers. So you probably already deduced that Capsaicin is a chemical that causes chemical pain in mammals, including humans. This substance causes a burning sensation in any tissue with which it comes in contact. The plant produces it for the purpose of repelling mammals and parasitic fungi.
Due to the burning sensation caused by Capsaicin when it comes in contact with mucous membranes, it is commonly used in food products as a spice. When in high concentrations, Capsaicin can also cause burns in sensitive areas, such as skin or eyes. Because there are people who enjoy the heat and spiciness of it, there are many products that use it, such as Tabasco, chili powder and paprika. The hot spiciness is not defined as a taste in the same way that sweet, bitter, salty, sour are, rather it is a feeling of pain.
Quite a few studies have been performed on Capsaicin. At the American Heart Association 2020 Science Conference, a comprehensive study on the health benefits of Capsaicin was presented. The researchers examined 4,729 studies, from five leading global health databases, and combined them into one study that totaled half a million subjects. They found that consuming chili has an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant effect, ability to reduce the chance of cancer and diabetes. The conclusion of this comprehensive study is that Capsaicin can prolong human life.
Thanks to the large number of people who participated in the various studies, the researchers were able to make a comparison between those who eat chili ‘regularly’, and those who eat it ‘rarely’ or ‘never’. This type of analysis can produce a trend, in other words, show how different concentration of the substance affects human health. The results greatly surprised the researchers. For hot spicy eaters, there appears to be a 25 percent reduction in the mortality rate from vascular disease and cancer, and generally a 25 percent lower mortality rate compared to people who never eat spicy foods.
As always, further research is needed to identify the mechanism of action of the Capsaicin molecule in our bodies but this is undoubtedly a fascinating direction. Bon appetit.