Chilli pepper - western medicine

Chilli pepper species are reported to contain many different compounds, including capsaicinoids (e.g. capsaicin), carotenoids and flavonoids. Some studies show that Capsicum and capsaicin may have anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial effects.

Chillies in medicines

A photograph of dried red chilli peppers.
Image: Dried red chilli peppers.

Oleoresin from the chilli pepper is included in some over-the-counter medicines for application to the skin to act as counter-irritants. These medicines, for example Algipan Rub®, may be used for some joint or muscle pains. Some prescription medicines that contain capsaicin are prescribed for applying to the skin to alleviate some types of pain in joints, for example Zacin® cream. Other prescription medicines containing capsaicin (e.g. Axsain® cream) are prescribed to apply to the skin to relieve some types of nerve pain, such as post-herpetic neuralgia.

Capsicum has also been included in some cough preparations, for example Buttercup Syrup®.

Safety

All parts of chilli peppers and ornamental cultivars, particularly the fruits are potentially toxic in external use. The oleoresin is strongly irritant to eyes, tender skin and mucous membranes and contact of capsaicin with eyes may cause eye disorders such as corneal abrasions. Side-effects of chilli or capsaicin, when applied to the skin, may include a burning sensation. Contact dermatitis has been reported following direct handling of chilli peppers containing capsaicin. Chronic occupational exposure to chilli peppers (C. annum) may result in an increase in coughing.

This information is provided for general interest only. It is not intended as guidance for medicinal use. Further information on using herbal medicines is available.