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Hot peppers cause ulcers and other stomach problems, right? Wrong! Here's how they fight irritants, inflammation, and even H. pylori.

When we were kids, my brother Hal and I would play a little game at picnics or other gatherings. One of us would take a hot chili pepper out of a jar and eat it as if it was an olive. Then the other would follow suit. We'd keep eating them until someone asked us, "Aren't those peppers hot?"

"Oh no," we'd reply, reaching for another. We were prepared to finish the whole jar if necessary. But it wasn't. Invariably, someone at our table would reach over, take out a pepper, and eat it.

Tongue burning and tears pouring out of their eyes, they'd reach for a glass of water--which only made it hotter. Hal and I would laugh ... and eat another hot chili pepper.

You would think eating all those peppers would have caused a hole in our stomachs, or at least severe irritation. But they didn't. We didn't know then that spicy chili peppers actually have anti-inflammatory activity and heal stomach and duodenal ulcers.

While others have told you to stay away from peppers, I've told you about their incredible healing powers. In the past, I've talked about using creams made from chili peppers for arthritis and other pain. The active ingredient, capsaicin, is used in many topical products. But now I want to tell you about the good reasons to use capsaicin or chili powder (cayenne) internally for inflammation and ulcers.


Originally, capsaicin was found to protect the stomach mucosa in animals. Then a study conducted in Singapore found it had the same effect on people. In fact, it showed that gastric ulcers are three times more common in the Chinese, who eat small amounts of chilies, than in Malaysians and Indians who eat much larger amounts.

In this study, volunteers with normal stomach linings (no irritation or ulcers) drank 20 grams of chili powder in water. Then they took 600 mg of aspirin (a regular dose of aspirin is 325 mg). The control group took only the aspirin. The aspirin alone caused more than twice the amount of injury to stomach mucosa as the chili powder plus aspirin. The capsaicin was protective.

Other studies showed that chili powder protects against damage in the stomach lining caused by aspirin, alcohol, and even indomethacin, an anti-inflammatory drug. Don't be surprised to hear that anti-inflammatory drugs contribute to ulcers. Ulcers are common in people who take NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory substances) who also have H. pylori, a bacterium I'm going to talk about in a minute.


Most people with ulcers look for the most soothing foods they can find. Not Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper. However, they might be just the ticket. Instead of irritating ulcers, capsaicin actually helps them heal.

In addition, Capsaicin seems to reduce the incidents of stomach ulcers. This may be due to its effect in eradicating the bacterium linked to ulcers: Helicobactor pylori (H. pylori).

H. Pylori

While many people have believed for decades that hot peppers contribute to gastric ulcers, the bacterium H. pylori actually cause most of them. Capsaicin kills off H. pylori, which is so common, more than half the population has it.

Researchers have also identified H. pylori as a potent carcinogen that can contribute to stomach cancer. It can also trigger inflammation. One problem is that many people with high quantities of H. pylori have no symptoms, so their condition goes untreated. If you suspect you have H. pylori, or want to rule it out, your doctor can order a simple blood test or breath test.

Numerous studies have shown that capsaicin inhibits the growth of H. pylori. In one study, it worked within four hours, even when used in small amounts on antibiotic-resistant strains. The researchers of this study concluded that "small doses of capsaicin can help in treatment of gastric and duodenum ulcers."

Hot chilies can work quickly on pathogenic bacteria. Various strains of H. pylori were tested with a chili extract. There was antibacterial activity in 100% of the strains tested after only 30 minutes!

Capsaicin dosage

Chili peppers, cayenne pepper, and capsaicin supplements all work to help heal the stomach. But how much do you need?

The late herbalist, Dr. John R. Christopher, had his ulcer patients drink a glass of water with one teaspoon, of cayenne pepper three times a day. You may prefer taking four to six capsules with food instead. Or you could try a few drops of cayenne tincture in water or food.

For protection, the amount researchers used in studies varied greatly--from 5 to 1,000 mg. One study suggested using the amount in a Thai diet. That's around 200 mg per day--pretty spicy for most people.

You may want to take capsaicin or cayenne pepper capsules instead. Begin with 30-50 mg two or three times a day and work your way up to a comfortable amount. Like Hal and me, you may be able to tolerate higher quantities. But don't overdo it. Hot peppers can cause allergic reactions or pain.

There are always people who are sensitive to any herb or plant. Chilies are a member of the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, etc.). If you have a reason to avoid them, chilies or capsaicin may not be for you.

But if, like me, you have no sensitivity to peppers of any kind, capsaicin could be a simple, inexpensive way to either avoid or treat ulcers and reduce inflammation. Hal and I will continue to eat them just because we love their taste ... and the burning.

Fadile, V.Z., and O. Elif. "In vitro activity of capsaicin against Helicobacter pylori," Annals of microbiology, 2005.

Jones, N.L., et al. "Capsaicin as an inhibitor of the growth of the gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori," FEMS Microbiol Lett, January 15, 1997.

O'Mahoney, R., et al. "Bactericidal and anti-adhesive properties of culinary and medicinal plants against Helicobacter pylori," World J Gastroenterol, Dec 21 2005.

Satyanarayana, M.N., "Capsaicin and gastric ulcers," Crit Rev FoodSci Nutr, 2006.

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Title Annotation:helicobacter pylori
Publication:Women's Health Letter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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