by Dave DeWitt
“I think we need to extract the capsaicin first”
The chemical that makes chile peppers hot is becoming more popular every day in applications that range from the strange to the ingenious. In 1995, Jack Challem wrote in The Nutrition Reporter that more than 1,300 studies on capsaicin had been published in medical journals since 1990, and that number surely is much larger now. But medicine is far from the only use of capsaicin.
Around 1990, reports were all over the media about an inventor who was adding capsaicin to the paint used on boat hulls and intake valves on municipal water systems to prevent the growth of barnacles and zebra mussels. That story just faded away, but now it’s back as scientists from Burlington Bio-Medical and Scientific Corporation of Farmingdale, New York have announded the development of a method of making large quantities of denatonium capsaicinate. The compound, which includes capsaicin and the anesthetic lidocaine, is both painfully spicy and intensely bitter. Denatonium capsaicinate is being proposed for a paint additive because it is nontoxic to marine life and will effectively repel barnacles. Other uses for the compound include applying it to veterinary sutures to prevent pets from pulling them out with their teeth. Also, coating fiber-optic cables with the chemical could prevent rodents from gnawing on them.
Capsaicin has a well-documented history as an animal deterrent. Chile powder is added to bird seed to prevent squirrels from eating it; there is no effect on birds and the vitamin A in the powder brightens the birds’ plumage.
One company, IntAgra, manufactures Get Away Repellent spray in two formulations: Dog and Cat and Squirrel and Raccoon. The Dog and Cat repellent is used to keep those animals out of garbage, gardens, lawns, and landscaped areas. The Squirrel and Raccoon spray is used on bird feeders and gardens.
One of the more interesting uses of capsaicin as an animal repellent involves insects. My wife, Mary Jane Wilan, applies super-hot sauces with oleoresin capsicum in them on the threshold of our front door to deter the large outdoor cockroaches from crawling in under the door. Now we learn that she was ahead of her time. NIT International has released NouGuard, a bio-repellent for ants that is made mostly from capsaicin. It is sprayed around the perimeter of structures to keep the ants outside.
Harald Zoschke of Suncoast Peppers reports that two of his customers in Arizona order his extremely hot Liquid Ax hot sauce to prevent woodpeckers from pecking holes in their wooden garages. Birds enjoy eating pepper pods, but they have an aversion to the highly concentrated oleoresins. He also says his neighbor puts Liquid Ax on his phone cords to deter their cats from chewing on them.
By now everyone probably knows that there are dozens of brands of capsaicin creams on the market to combat the pain of arthritis, as well as shingles, psoriasis, and other skin disorders. Researchers are putting new twists on these medications almost weekly. One complaint about creams is that when applied, they burn the fingers and the user has a good chance of getting some of the cream in his or her eyes. Therefore, it was only natural to find new application techniques. Penecine Topical Pain Reliever is sold in three fluid ounce plastic containers that feature a hands-free roller ball applicator. Zostrix, one of the first creams on the market, is now available as Zostrix Topical Analgesic in Stick form. It is advertised as portable, convenient, and drip-free. A single stick comes in a 0.7-ounce rack-displayable blister pack. Another application format is the patch. Capsaicin patches, like mustard plasters, have been around for a while, but now they are making a comeback as TheraPatch Penetrating Pain Relief Patches.
Other medical developments include the introduction of capsaicin gels and the addition of other medicines or herbs to make the capsaicin products more efficacious. Heritage Consumer Products has released Eucalyptamint 2000 arthritis pain relieving gel that contains capsaicin and menthol. Another analgesic gel is Arthogesic, which claims to give temporary relief from minor muscle aches, joint arthritis, backache, bruises, strains, and sprains.
Some manufacturers believe that the addition of herbal remedies assist the capsaicin. Sports Med and Arth DR utilize capsaicin plus glucosamine, raspberry leaf, valerian, and white willow bar. Nature’s Sunshine Product’s Capsaicin Gel has twice as much capsaicin as usual (0.05 rather than 0.025 percent) plus yucca, horsetail, chamomile, elder flower, peppermint oil, spearmint oil, aloe vera, and allantoin, a component of comfrey herb. NatureWorks manufactures Swedish Bitters Capsaicin Cream, which contains capsaicin and Swedish Bitters extract for use in treating arthritis, backache, and pains in the muscles and joints.
One company, Thione International, has been granted a U.S. Patent for its compositions for relief of the symptoms of arthritis. The patent protects Thione’s healthcare preparations that are based on L-glutathione, “the body’s key protector and most important anti-oxidant,” according to company spokesman Dr. Theodore Hersh. The first Thione product based upon the patent is Pain Relief Rx, which combines the company’s antioxidant complex with capsaicin.
Capsaicin is found only in chile peppers and in no other plant, animal, or mineral. Detectable to the human taste buds to one part in one million, this powerful alkaloid is extracted from hot chiles as an oleoresin (thick oil) used in super-hot sauces and pepper sprays. The oleoresin is refined into a white crystalline powder that is so toxic that technicians can work with it only in clean rooms while clothed in protective suits with filtered air. Many experts believe that capsaicin’s use as a medicine has a great future that scientists are just beginning to discover.
For more on the medical properties of capsaicin, see The Healing Powers of Peppers, by myself, Melissa T. Stock, and Kellye Hunter (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998).