Hot Pepper Science: Capsaicin and Pain Relief

capsaicinDuring the last month I’ve been on the hunt for good pain relief with this hand issue (see my last post if you’re just tuning in). After a very frustrating few weeks going back and forth between ibuprofen and naproxen sodium (Aleve, in brand name) I started to get really frustrated. The only part of me that hurt were my hands, and these medications weren’t really doing much to help. Why take a pill that doesn’t work and targets everything?

While perusing the local pain relief at the store about a week ago I came across a product I’d been interested in for a while: Capzasin, a topical analgesic derived from capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers hot. I’d read a lot about this chemical and its purported medical applications, but was a little leery about shelling out $10 for a small tube of anything. However, since I’d tried just about everything, I was willing to risk it, especially in the name of science. I mean, I’m a geek. The idea of hot peppers actually helping alleviate pain sort of feels like something out of a fantasy novel, or a poultice an alchemist might make in a D&D game. I’m totally about that.

Well, to my surprise (and relief) the product really worked. It hasn’t gotten rid of the pain entirely, but it certainly mitigates the real “high end” of carpal tunnel pain, making going about my daily activities a whole lot easier. It also has a warming sensation that’s very welcome. The only weird side-effect is that if I apply it too late in the evening, after I put my braces on my wrists at night, I can end up with a burning sensation (mine is very minor, but in some instances people with sensitive skin experience much more severe burning—definitely something to start small with if you suspect you might be prone to its effects). This is somewhat expected, as the label doesn’t recommend wrapping the area, but I have to keep my wrists straight at night. It’s tolerable and only happens sometimes. Also, it can linger on the fingers. So if you’re applying it with bare hands, it’s probably a good idea to skip the contact lenses for a while. I learned that one the hard way. Serious ouch.

According to Wikipedia, there are a myriad of medical applications for capsaicin and chili peppers in general, and currently it’s being tested for everything from weight loss to cardiovascular diseases. Whether or not it’s a wonder drug is still up for debate, but it’s definitely exciting and geeky. Looks like pain relief is just one of the many ways chili peppers can make our lives better… not to mention being a culinary goldmine!

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