Many people think of crushed red pepper as a simple spice. It's a pizza topping, stored alongside the oregano and Parmesan cheese shakers, or an afterthought, something to shake on dishes that have turned out a little bland. However, the health benefits of crushed red pepper extend beyond its use as a flavoring. These spicy little flakes can also boost metabolism, decrease hunger, decrease pain and possibly fight prostate cancer.
The Capsaicin Effect
Crushed red pepper flakes are made up of a combination of red chili pepper types. Ancho, bell, cayenne and other peppers can all be part of the dried and ground pepper mix. Most of these peppers contain a compound called capsaicin, which can help deplete the brain of pain-signaling neurotransmitters, block inflammation and effectively work like a painkiller. Capsaicin also has a profound effect on prostate cancer cells, preventing them from proliferating and inducing cell death, according to a study published in the journal "Cancer Research" in 2006.
Red Pepper Flakes Boost Metabolism
The burn that comes from eating spicy crushed red pepper flakes may be responsible for its metabolism effects. A Purdue University study published in 2011 found that adding just half a teaspoon (one gram) of dried, ground cayenne pepper to meals helped subjects burn more calories afterward than those who didn't consume the spicy pepper mix. The researchers attribute this to the "burn" of dried red pepper -- the sensory experience stimulates a rise in body temperature, greater energy expenditure and increased appetite control.
Effective Appetite Suppressant
Purdue University researchers also found dried red pepper to be an appetite suppressant for people unaccustomed to the spice. Adding half a teaspoon of dried chili peppers daily was able to decrease feelings of hunger in those who didn't normally eat dried red peppers. These participants also reported fewer cravings for fatty, salty and sweet foods -- but the effect was seen only among those who didn't consume it frequently. Researchers concluded that once people get used to red pepper, it is less effective at decreasing appetite.
Antioxidants in Red Pepper Extracts
Dried red peppers are rich in antioxidants. A study published in the "Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology" in 2012 found that a complex mixture of carotenoid antioxidants in red pepper extracts. Carotenoids -- and antioxidants in general -- promote good health by fighting oxidative stress in the body and quashing the inflammation that can lead to pain and disease. The carotenoids in dried red peppers are very usable by the body. Some 50 to 80 percent of the carotenoid content in red peppers could be bioavailable, according to a study published in 2010 in the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry."
- Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology: Antioxidant, Antinociceptive, and Anti-inflammatory Effects of Carotenoids Extracted from Dried Pepper
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: Bioactive Compounds of Four Hot Pepper Varieties, Antioxidant Capacity and Intestinal Bioaccessibility
- U.S. Pharmacist: Capsaicin Risks and Benefits
- Purdue University: Reasonable Quantities of Red Pepper May Help Curb Appetite
- Cancer Research: Capsaicin, a Component of Red Peppers, Inhibits Growth of Androgen-Independent, p53 Mutant Prostate Cancer Cells