Capsaicin - Pleasure and Pain Explained

Author: Deb   Date Posted:2 December 2016 

Capsaicin - Pleasure and Pain Explained

Capsaicin - Pleasure and Pain Explained

Chilli – whether you love eating it or rubbing it in, you’re experiencing some interesting food science first hand.  Much of the world loves cooking with chilli but its uses travel far beyond the cooking pot.  Interestingly, the sensation of burning chilli on the tongue eating a curry isn’t that different to the science behind its topical application. 

I’ve taken this angle as we’ve all experienced the burning sensation caused by chilli on the tongue but not everyone has tried it topically.  The science behind the pleasure and pain of eating capsaicin or applying it is amazing and you may never look at a chilli pepper in the same way again!

Capsaicin is derived from chillies which is responsible for its hot taste. But its powers go way beyond that.  Capsaicin activates the receptor, TRPV1, found in the skin (including the tongue), nerves and joints.  TRPV1 normally gets activated by heat (above 42°C), but incredibly, capsaicin can also turn it on.   The activation of TRPV1 leads to a burning sensation which triggers other nerve cells to carry this message from its location to the brain. The neurotransmitter responsible for communicating this message to the brain is called Substance P.  Substance P wants to alert the brain that a dangerous temperature has been detected. 

So far, it’s all been about pain.  So why would anyone want to come into contact with chilli and its devious compound? Capsaicin tricks the brain into thinking there may be some tissue damage through this above 42°C burning sensation.  The brain responds to this deception by releasing another type of neurotransmitter, known as endorphins that are naturally occurring pain relief chemicals in the body.  Without them, the perception of pain would be constant and probably unbearable.  Endorphins inhibit the release of Substance P and so fewer pain signals are sent to the brain.  If you’re eating it, you are likely to be on the receiving end of getting a dose of yet another neurotransmitter, dopamine, associated with pleasure (these neurotransmitters seem to be taking on personalities!) Some people feel euphoric after eating a large dose of spicy foods. Sounds good to me.

So, capsaicin is responsible for blocking the activity of Substance P, which is a powerful motivator to befriend it in whatever way may benefit.  Substance P is released from sensory nerve fibres in skin, muscle and joints so capsaicin has real value in reducing pain in a variety of syndromes.

Suve products with capsaicin

Eco Paineze Patches


Percutane Sports Cream

Hilde Hemmes PainElim











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