People who love freshly ground black pepper should not panic when they read this article. Black pepper taken in moderation has mainly positive effects on our body as it provides it with the trace minerals chromium and vanadium. Vanadium is being researched because it might be beneficial to those with Type-2 diabetes as it may reduce blood sugar levels and improve sensitivity to insulin, so one study showed which involved patients with Type-2 diabetes. However research is in its early stages so nothing can be definitely said about vanadium and its health benefits.
The peppers that can be harmful are the red ones, red chilli peppers and cayenne in particular which contain capsaicin. This substance is sometimes found in ointments which are used to relieve skin irritations and pain from joints and muscles affected by arthritis and rheumatism. Capsaicin is a hot substance which gives chillies their bite and it is used in medicine as it blocks pain signals to the brain. However, if you get this substance on your skin, it will probably cause a burning sensation and it can damage the cornea in the eye as it is an irritant. It may have anti-microbial and antioxidant effects but research is still on-going.
Capsaicin can cause an increase in stomach acids, so people with too much of them should avoid eating red peppers or their derivatives. Capsaicin should not be taken with aspirin as it increases the risk of bleeding associated with it. If you are using theophylline for asthma then capsaicin should be avoided as it can increase the theophylline in the body to toxic levels. Also if you are taking medication to thin the blood or ACE inhibitors then avoid capsaicin.
However if you are a healthy individual a few chilli peppers here and there in moderation will do you no harm. If you eat too many or indulge in chilli-eating competitions however you will probably irritate your stomach and could get peptic ulcers. Research is underway to discover if capsaicin can help combat obesity, as eating chillies appears to increase the body’s production of heat for a short time. This may help to regulate blood sugar levels by helping to break down carbohydrates ingested in a meal.
People who are allergic to kiwis, bananas, chestnuts and avocados may also be allergic to cayenne pepper and chillies.
In some people spicy food which contains chillies, cayenne pepper and black pepper along with other spices, can suffer from acid reflux, which is not fatal or dangerous, just troublesome and results in burping; this is the body’s way of telling you that it can’t handle spicy food well. Chronic acid reflux disease can in rare cases result in esophageal cancer. If you suffer in this way after eating spicy food, cut down on the spices especially at night as acid reflux can also erode the teeth.
Eating spicy food including chilli peppers can lead to insomnia, as well as impairing the ability of the taste buds to distinguish between different flavours. There is also an ailment known as geographic tongue which is the rapid irritation of the tongue after eating very spicy, peppery food and this causes strange patterns to form on the tongue, and can weaken the sense of taste for up to a month. Clearly this is not life-threatening, but it can be annoying.
Peppers are good for us if we are healthy individuals, but if you take any supplements containing cayenne or chilli pepper derivatives you should consult your health care provider before taking them. In fact this advice goes for all supplements that can be bought over the counter. Commonsense is necessary so that you don’t over-indulge in pepper, but in moderation, it is unlikely to harm you.