Most people recognize capsaicin as the substance responsible for the burning sensation when you eat hot peppers.
Intriguingly, it’s also available as a supplement and associated with several health benefits, including weight loss.
Still, you should take precautions due to several potential side effects.
This article explains everything you need to know about capsaicin supplements, including their benefits, dosage, and side effects.
What is capsaicin?
Capsaicin is a compound found in chili peppers that gives them their spicy kick.
The highest concentration occurs in the seeds, making them significantly spicier than the flesh.
Some people are more sensitive to capsaicin than others, which is usually related to how often they eat spicy foods. Your tongue adjusts to the sensation over time (3).
The heat of a given pepper can be measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHUs), which range from 0 to 15 million. For example, jalapeños measure about 2,500–8,000 SHUs, whereas habanero peppers hit 100,000–350,000 SHUs.
Capsaicin supplements are typically derived from cayenne peppers.
These supplements also commonly use SHUs to measure potency. The typical range is 40,000–100,000, though because they’re encapsulated, you don’t experience the same heat as when you eat hot peppers.
Capsaicin is a compound in hot peppers that causes a burning sensation when consumed. It’s likewise taken as a supplement.
Capsaicin stimulates your senses and is linked to several health benefits.
May aid weight loss
Capsaicin’s most popular benefit is its potential to support weight or fat loss.
Capsaicin works by increasing oxygen consumption and body temperature, which leads to a slight increase in calories burned (9).
Studies show that consuming this compound on a regular basis may promote a calorie deficit and aid fat burning. A calorie deficit, which is generally required for weight loss, means that you burn more calories than you consume (7, 10, 11).
In addition, a 12-week study in 80 people with a slightly elevated body mass index (BMI) tied supplementing with 6 mg of capsaicin daily to a reduction in belly fat (12).
Capsaicin also appears to have an appetite-suppressing effect, which may help you cut your calorie intake throughout the day (13).
Keep in mind that capsaicin’s results are likely minimal unless paired with a proper diet and exercise regimen.
May help reduce inflammation
Capsaicin supplements may have anti-inflammatory properties.
Foods that contain high amounts of antioxidants, such as hot peppers, may combat free radicals in your body. Free radicals promote chronic inflammation, which may increase your risk of conditions like cancer, autoimmune disorders, and heart disease (14).
Thus, capsaicin supplements may lower your risk of these ailments.
Results based on data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Study (NHANES) linked hot pepper intake to a reduced risk of early death. This may be due in part to their high antioxidant content (18).
May relieve pain
Capsaicin is sometimes used for pain management. It works by stimulating pain receptors, which in turn reduce your sensitivity to pain (21).
These products are used for joint disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, as well as diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage in people with diabetes that can cause pain (21, 22, 23).
Note that, when applied to your skin, capsaicin may produce burning effects similar to those caused by eating it. Thus, you may want to start with small amounts and pay attention to any adverse reactions.
Capsaicin supplements may promote weight loss and reduce inflammation. When applied topically, this compound may relieve pain.
Precautions and side effects
While capsaicin supplements are generally recognized as safe, you should take a few precautions.
May cause a burning sensation
One of the most common side effects of capsaicin supplements is a burning effect throughout your digestive tract.
Over time, your digestive tract becomes desensitized to capsaicin’s effects, reducing the uncomfortable feeling you may experience.
The best way to avoid this side effect is to take the supplement just before a meal, as food serves as a buffer to prevent the burning sensation.
May cause elevated temperature
Capsaicin supplements may raise your body temperature.
While this isn’t usually dangerous — and no scientific evidence suggests that it can induce a fever — some individuals may be more susceptible to this sensation than others.
In addition, there’s a chance that capsaicin supplements may increase your blood pressure. Thus, if you’re taking blood pressure medications, it’s important to check with your healthcare provider before taking this supplement (28, 29).
To avoid these side effects, start with a low dose and slowly increase it until you reach your desired amount.
Capsaicin supplements are generally safe, but you should be aware that they may irritate your digestive tract and raise your body temperature.
Food sources of capsaicin may not provide enough of this compound to yield all of its potential benefits. Thus, people take supplements because they have a higher concentration of capsaicin.
The majority of supplements on the market contain cayenne pepper as the main active ingredient, as it tends to be high in capsaicin. Capsules typically provide around 500 mg of cayenne pepper each.
As cayenne pepper contains approximately 2.5 mg of capsaicin per gram, you would need to take two to five 500-mg capsules to obtain 2–6 mg of capsaicin.
Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates supplements differently than medications, dosages aren’t typically standardized. Thus, it’s best to start with a low dose to avoid any potential side effects.
Furthermore, it’s important to purchase capsaicin supplements from a reputable source. Third-party verification from companies like NSF International or USP provide additional safety and quality assurance.
Studies suggest that 2–6 mg of capsaicin may offer health benefits. Two to five 500-mg cayenne pepper capsules should provide this amount.
The bottom line
Capsaicin, the compound in hot peppers that causes their infamous burning sensation, may offer numerous benefits when taken as a supplement.
Studies indicate that it promotes weight loss, reduces inflammation, and — when applied topically — relieves pain.
You should start with a low dose and talk to your healthcare provider before supplementing to reduce your risk of side effects.