Q. About a year ago you wrote that some people use spicy gumbo soup to alleviate migraines. I have been looking for a solution for food allergy headaches and was willing to try almost anything. I started eating green chili peppers daily. Within two weeks I began to dream about sex!
I am 72 and haven’t had sexy dreams for ages. I still have my allergy problem, but now I have a sex awareness problem as well. For some reason I can’t stop eating green chili peppers. Do you think there’s a connection?
A. You may have discovered a new use for hot peppers. As far as we know, though, there is no research to suggest that capsaicin (the hot stuff in hot peppers) stimulates sexuality. On the other hand, researchers have not devoted much time or effort to studying capsaicin as an aphrodisiac. Spicy foods do have a reputation for stimulating sex drive, but we doubt that there is much scientific evidence to support this notion.
There are many studies on other therapeutic uses of hot peppers, however. Capsaicin is used topically to relieve arthritis pain, diabetic neuropathy or the pain following an attack of shingles. And some readers of this column tell us that spicy soups can cut short a migraine if eaten before the headache takes hold.
Here are some other stories about the benefits of hot stuff:
“I have suffered from painful cramps in my toes and feet most of my life. I have spent hours walking around the house trying to relieve them. I have worried about the day when I am an octogenarian and might not be able to get up and walk around.
By accident, I discovered effective relief. In my nightstand was a tube of Capsagesic-HP, which my husband used for neuropathic (nerve) pain. Out of desperation in the middle of the night, I rubbed some on my foot. My cramps disappeared instantly and did not return, affording me a peaceful night’s rest. I have used it many times since and always get great relief.”
Q. I have had success with a remedy I read about in your newspaper column. I have persistent heartburn and was on prescription medications for more than a decade. I was surprised to read that cayenne pepper extract had helped others with this problem.
I have been taking one cayenne pill in the morning and one in the evening for less than two weeks. I have gone from chomping Tums or Rolaids three to five times a day to almost none. It has made a huge difference in the way I feel. The relief came very quickly and was inexpensive. I have even had some pretty spicy food.
A. You have confirmed what others report, namely that capsaicin (the hot stuff in chili peppers) may be helpful for heartburn. Although such an approach seems unorthodox, a study in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility (April, 2010) showed that regular ingestion of hot peppers reduced symptoms of reflux. Using an extract in pill form might be more tolerable for those who dislike spicy flavors.
Here is the original report from a reader who found hot pepper helpful. Others recommend apple cider vinegar, almonds after a meal, or DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice). There’s more information in our Guide to Digestive Disorders.