Used in topical ointments and creams, cayenne (capsaicin) is known to be safe and effective for pain management in cases of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, as well as conditions affecting the nerves, including shingles. Studies show that pain and itch caused by operations or injuries may also benefit from cayenne treatment.
Researchers from the University of Chicago reviewed pain relief data from 33 case studies to report on the efficacy of cayenne. They concluded that cayenne may be helpful in several painful conditions including neck or loin pain, rhinopathy and postmastectomy syndrome, but was most effective for the pain or itch caused by psoriasis, pruritus (anal itch) and cluster headache.
Pruritus is a common condition that is often quite difficult to treat. At the Hebrew University Medical School in Israel, researchers conducted a novel study to see if cayenne might benefit patients suffering from this condition. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 44 patients were given either cayenne cream or a placebo for two four-week periods. After the first four weeks, the placebo and treatment groups switched places for the remaining four weeks. At the end of the study, 31 of 44 patients (70%) experienced significant symptom relief from cayenne treatment but not from the placebo. The researchers concluded that cayenne is a safe and highly effective treatment for pruritus. Some participants from both groups remained on the cayenne treatment over the next eight to ten months. Of these participants, 29 found that cayenne continued to relieve their symptoms.
Sources: Gut. 2003 Sep;52(9):1323-6; Clin J Pain. 1998 Jun;14(2):97-106