By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
Hot chile peppers have long held a place of distinction in culinary and medicinal lore. But the idea that capsaicin, the element in chiles that produces the heat, had anesthetic properties had “long been dismissed as clinically useless,” wrote the Boston Globe. Now Harvard researchers think they’ve figured out how the capsaicin in chile can eliminate a wide range of pain from that associated with dentistry to the pangs of child birth – all without leaving the patient numb.
|Know Your Capsaicin Quotient|
More than 2,000 published studies have investigated medicinal properties of capsaicin in hot chile peppers since 1982.
Areas of research have included treatment for asthma, arthritis, blood clots, burns, endorphin release, headaches, high blood pressure, inflammation, PMS, pain, and shingles.
There has been no evidence in recent studies that chiles cause gastro-intestinal problems. Talk to your doctor about the potential benefits, and how chiles might fit into your diet.
In experiments on rats, the Harvard team demonstrated that pain was undetectable even as the animals retained full function and continued to feel normally. Specifically, the Globe reported, “The rats received injections near nerves leading to their hind feet, and lost the ability to feel pain in the paws. But they continued to scamper around their cages normally with sensitivity to touch and other stimulation.”
Chile peppers were considered to be ineffective in the clinical world because while they could only “open the door” of pain receptors, not enter. The genius of Harvard’s team was that they paired capsaicin with lidocaine, a commonly used anesthetic most dental patients have had numerous times. By using the two substances together, they were able to first open the gateway to the pain receptors with the capsaicin, and then send the lidocaine in. This inhibited the pain without the added side effects of numbing and paralysis that patients currently experience with state-of-the-art medical science.
“This could really change the experience of, for example, knee surgery, tooth extractions, or childbirth,” Clifford G. Wolf, MD, PhD, senior author of the study and researcher in anesthesia and pain management at Massachusetts General Hospital told the Globe. “The possibilities are endless. This method could really transform surgical and postsurgical analgesia. Patients could remain alert without suffering pain. But they also wouldn’t have to cope with numbness or paralysis.”
The research is being heralded as innovative not so much for its brand new findings, but for knitting together pieces of knowledge in a new way that produced remarkable results. “We plucked a little of this and a little of that off the shelves,” Bruce P. Bean, MD, PhD, professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, told the Globe. “The project is really a great illustration of how basic biological principles can have very practical applications.”
Indeed, colleagues at points distant are giving more than passing notice to the discovery. “It’s a really clever piece of work, based on one of those ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ ideas,” Stephen G. Waxman, MD, PhD, head of the department of neurology at Yale University’s School of Medicine told the Globe. “This is an important piece of research.”