The two faces of capsaicin

Ann M. Bode, Zigang Dong

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

163 Scopus citations

Abstract

Capsaicin (trans-8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) is the principal pungent component in hot peppers, including red chili peppers, jalapeños, and habaneros. Consumed worldwide, capsaicin has a long and convoluted history of controversy about whether its consumption or topical application is entirely safe. Conflicting epidemiologic data and basic research study results suggest that capsaicin can act as a carcinogen or as a cancer preventive agent. Capsaicin is unique among naturally occurring irritant compounds because the initial neuronal excitation evoked is followed by a long-lasting refractory period, during which the previously excited neurons are no longer responsive to a broad range of stimuli. This process is referred to as desensitization and has been exploited for its therapeutic potential. Capsaicin-containing creams have been in clinical use for many years to relieve a variety of painful conditions. However, their effectiveness in pain relief is also highly debated and some adverse side effects have been reported. We have found that chronic, long-term topical application of capsaicin increased skin carcinogenesis in mice treated with a tumor promoter. These results might imply that caution should be exercised when using capsaicin-containing topical applications in the presence of a tumor promoter, such as, for example, sunlight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2809-2814
Number of pages6
JournalCancer Research
Volume71
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 15 2011

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