The HOT chemical in hot peppers is also pretty cool!

I had wanted to feature this hot, pretty and cool chemical on national chili day, but I suppose it’s never too late! Do you like it hot? I’m talking about peppers here…. Did you know that the chemical compound that makes hot peppers seem so deliciously hot is called capsaicin? Have you ever had the misfortune of wiping your eyes sometime after cutting up a fiery pepper? Talk about STINGING! That’s why pepper spray is so effective! Here are some other cool tricks this chemical has up its sleeve:

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-it tricks your body into thinking it was burned because it triggers the same neural signal as heat

-if you get concentrated capsaicin (like a hot chili oil) on your skin, it tricks you body into thinking it’s so hot that your body actually inflames the area so it ends up looking like you were actually burned (talk about mind tricks!)

-it “tricks” the body into using more ATP energy which is given off as heat, which is why you might feel really hot if you add too much hot sauce to your food

-the last point also means that it can increase your metabolism and body heat, but you probably can’t eat enough peppers for this to actually happen

 

A few friends of mine run a contest to see who can find the hottest pepper for a course lab. Here, ones of these friends, Derek Jackson is isolating capsaicin from a hot chili pepper!

A few friends of mine run a contest to see who can find the hottest pepper for a course lab. Here, ones of these friends, Derek Jackson is isolating capsaicin from a hot chili pepper! Thanks for the photo, Derek!

Capsaicin does more than just tricks- this hot chemical has some cool health benefits too:

-it helps your body release endorphins, and is used in medications for illnesses like arthritis to relieve pain

 

-it can be absorbed through the skin and is used in topical pain medications

-it can be used to treat non-allergy sinus problems

-it can lower high blood pressure

-not to mention peppers themselves are high sources of vitamins A, C and E, folic acid and potassium

 

Think peppers are cool now?

 

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