Capsaicin, a compound found in capsicum peppers, is the factor that causes you to run to get a drink of cold water, as it activates the TRPV1 heat-sensor in the mouth. Of course, your mouth is not really hot, but it sure can fool you into thinking that your mouth is on fire.
Capsaicin is proving to be a very interesting compound, having been found to potentially exert cancer-preventing, analgesic, circadian-modulating, and anti-inflammatory effects. It is also proving to play a role in weight regulation by suppressing appetite via effects on hormones such as glucagon-like peptide 1 and ghrelin. But I find capsaicin most interesting for its effects on molding the composition of the intestinal microbiome. It is a terrific example of how non-microbial factors influence intestinal microbiome composition (strategies that I explore in detail in my upcoming new book, Super Gut, to be released in February, 2022).
Capsaicin has been shown to:
- Double the keystone species Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, the most vigorous producer of butyrate in the GI tract that, in turn, exerts effects such as reduced blood sugar, reduced blood pressure, and reduced triglycerides.
- Increases Ruminococcaceae and Lachnospiraceae, also important in producing beneficial fatty acids from dietary polysaccharides and major players in maintaining the intestinal barrier
- May increase the population of Roseburia species that help control blood sugar and can add to weight loss effects
- Reduce populations of potential pathogens such as Bacteroides fragilis, Clostridium difficile, E. coli, Streptococcus and Desulfovibrio
- Increase Akkermansia, a keystone species that contributes to mucus production and insulin sensitivity
- Reduce Enterobacteriaceae species that produce lipopolysaccharide, or LPS, the toxin that is released upon microbial death and enters the bloodstream, the very important process of endotoxemia. These are also the species of SIBO.
Capsaicin therefore appears to be a major non-microbial modulator of bowel flora composition and endotoxemia that you can put to use to your health advantage.
The hotter the pepper, the higher the Scoville scale, the greater the capsaicin content. The effective intake of capsaicin is in the neighborhood of 5 to 10 mg per day. Here is one analysis that quantified the amount of capsaicin in different hot sauces:
There are approximately 15 milliliters in 1 tablespoon. With a habanero-based sauce with 0.479 mg capsaicin per milliliter, for instance, one tablespoon provides around 7 grams of capsaicin.