Whether you’re taking cayenne as a dietary supplement or you just like spicy-hot food, this pepper can burn going in and coming out. A member of the Capsicum genus of peppers, cayenne does more than just burn, it provides antioxidants and offers potential health benefits. Cayenne’s medicinal uses include the treatment of weak digestion, heart disease, sore throat, toothache and high cholesterol, although clinical tests confirming these benefits are lacking. Burning bowel movements from consuming cayenne may be temporary. See your doctor before using this herb to treat any medical conditions.
Why It Burns
The compound that gives cayenne its burning properties is also responsible for its potential health benefits. Capsaicin, in the form of capsaicinoids and dihydrocapsaicin, is a strong surface irritant that burns when it encounters skin and mucus membranes, according to the “PDR for Herbal Medicines.” The sensitive nerve endings in the mouth and in the rectum and anus react to the irritant with an intense burning sensation.
Dosage and Burning
Burning bowel movements are a side effect of consuming cayenne. Cayenne stimulates the production of gastric secretions in the stomach. The more cayenne you consume, the more gastric juices your stomach produces, which triggers quick, and often loose, bowel movements. Undigested cayenne may produce cramping as it passes through your intestines. During a bowel movement, capsaicin irritates the nerve endings in the rectum and anus. The “Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine” suggests a therapeutic dose of cayenne in tea form by mixing 1/4 tsp. of cayenne pepper into 1 cup of hot water and sipping slowly. Do not exceed this dosage, unless directed to do so by your doctor.
Duration of Use
If you consume cayenne on a regular basis, the burning bowel movements may gradually cease. In addition to being a surface irritant, capsaicin is a pain modulator. With repeated contact, capsaicin blocks substance P, a peptide that transmits pain signals to the brain, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. For this reason, cayenne is an ingredient in topical ointments and creams designed to block nerve pain, such as the pain associated with shingles. The pain-blocking effect of cayenne is cumulative, and if you continue to consume cayenne daily, the burning effect from capsaicin may gradually become less and less. You may still experience loose bowels, however, since cayenne will still induce the stomach to produce gastric juices.
When taking cayenne therapeutically, you may experience additional side effects, which include stomach irritation and kidney and liver damage, especially at high doses. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers and children should not use cayenne. In small children, cayenne can trigger respiratory distress. In addition, the herb may interact with current medications you’re taking, so consult your doctor before using cayenne therapeutically.
- “PDR for Herbal Medicines, 2nd Edition”; Joerg Gruenwald, 2000
- “Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, Volume 2”; Jacqueline L. Longe; 2005
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Cayenne