The rheumatoid arthritis is among one of the most common types of arthritis which can affect both the young and the old equally. Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of an autoimmune system where the immune system of the body starts to attack its own cells and tissues.
The immune system of the body begins to produce antibodies against the cells and tissues and then releases them into the blood stream. These antibodies reach these targeted cells and attack them which results in inflammation. The typical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include soreness, stiffness, pain, swelling and redness around the joints.
The condition of arthritis can be caused due to inheritance of certain genes which are triggered due to certain environment conditions. Other causes include infection by bacteria or virus and change in hormones .
What are chilies?
Chilli is a fruit obtained from sub-shrub of the chilli. The dried ripe fruit of this shrub are used as a delicacy which is added to food items and sauces. The chilli plant belongs to the Capsicum genus and is a perennial plant which has a very pungent odor and taste. Many different species of the chilli plant are commonly grown and found in India. The pungency and the spiciness of the chilli plat vary from species to species ranging from mild to hot. The dried powder of the chilli is very popularly added to curries and dishes for flavoring. These chilies are also added to sauces for a hot flavor.
Almost all the fruits of the chilli plant have a compound named capsaicin. This compound is what gives the pungent odor and taste to the chilli fruits and decides the extent of heat. This compound is further made up of seven other alkaloids (capsaicinoids) which are responsible for the unique taste of the chilli. Three of these alkaloids cause a strong sensation towards the back of the throat and the palate while tow capsaicinoids leave a burning sensation on the tongue .
Not many people are aware that the capsaicin found in the chilli fruits can be used as treatment for numerous medical conditions including rheumatoid arthritis. It can be used as a counter irritant for arthritic disorders and it is also used as a pain reliever in some pain balms. The dehydrated forms of green chilli are considered a good source for vitamin C .
What is capsaicin?
Capsaicin is the compound present in the tissues of chillies. It is concentrated mainly on the placental tissue (on which seeds are held), inner membranes and slightly in the flesh of chilli.
This compound is a neuropeptide releasing substance, i.e. a compound which helps in transmission of signals to the brain.
It is an irritant to mammals. When a mammal’s tissue (including humans’) comes in contact with this compound, a burning sensation occurs.
Its ability in signalling to the brain by binding with certain receptors makes it useful as an analgesic (pain reducing substance).
The most common chilli species used to extract capsaicin are Capsicum annum and Capsicum frutescens.
3 Benefits of Chilli (Capsaicin) in Rheumatoid Arthritis
Capsaicin is effective in rheumatoid arthritis mainly as an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic substance. It acts mainly by interacting with TRPV1 (transient receptor potential vanilloid 1) receptors in cell signalling pathways.
This interaction proceeds through the ion channels, i.e. by flow of ions inside or outside the nerve cells/ neurons.
1.Capsaicin relieves pain
Pain is the most troublesome aspect of arthritis. The first and foremost treatment strategy involves the reduction of pain.
Capsaicin has a unique mechanism of reduction of pain. It is actually a pain producing compound by activating certain nociceptive (pain causing) neurons.
The repetitive contact of capsaicin with these neurons reduces sensation and deactivates them alleviating the pain.
Transient Receptor Potential Channels are important family of ion channels. Ion channels are a type of protein that serve as a gate and control the ions entering the cells. There are six subfamilies under TRP and they are activated in response to hot or cold stimulus.
The Transient Receptor Potential Vanillod 1 receptor (TRPV1) belongs to this family and is activated in response to capsaicin, heat, inflammatory mediators etc. TRPV1 has different functions based on its location.
It is located at the end of nerve fibres and is responsible for detection of pain, heat and chemicals.
Earlier it was thought that capsaicin brings about depletion of substance P, a brain related chemical involved in pain sensation, from the affected nerve fibres and this leads to pain relief.
However this no longer considered to be the case now.
Capsaicin is a member of vanilloid family of compounds such as vanillin from vanilla, eugenol from cloves etc.
Capsaicin binds to TRPV1 and brings about a similar reaction in the brain as that caused by heat. Therefore initially when you apply capsaicin based cream you experience warmth, itching and burning sensation.
Application of capsaicin based ointments or creams have been found to be an effective way of reduction of arthritis pain.
Studies have shown the potential of capsaicin in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis pain. The pain has been found to decrease significantly.
What does it mean?
It means capsaicin is useful in reducing the pain related to rheumatoid arthritis. It does so by interfering with molecules involved in transmission of signals through neurons.
2.Capsaicin has anti-inflammatory action
Inflammation of the synovial tissues is the main cause of rheumatoid arthritis. The inflammatory response is mediated by the pro-inflammatory molecules like prostaglandins, COX enzymes, certain interleukins, TNF-α etc.
These molecules cause the thickening of the protective pad (synovial tissue) at the end of the joints by causing inflammation. This affects proper movement of the joints as lubrication between them degrades as well. This causes stiffness in the joints.
Capsaicin is able to inhibit responses of many of these pro-inflammatory molecules such as prostaglandin E2, COX-2 enzyme etc.
It has been also found to induce anti-inflammatory action in case of rheumatoid arthritis, by releasing somatostatin.
Somatostatin is a molecule that has inhibitory action on inflammation and pain signals.
What does it mean?
It means application of capsaicin can reduce the inflammation in joints in rheumatoid arthritis. Capsaicin is capable of inhibiting various pro-inflammatory molecules. It can also induce production of certain inflammation inhibiting substances in the tissues itself.
3.Chillies have anti-oxidant potential
Oxidative stress has a key role in destruction of cartilage in the case of rheumatoid arthritis.
The over-production of reactive oxygen species damages the synovial tissue causing inflammation and proliferation.
It has been found that in rheumatoid arthritis patients, reactive oxygen species production is at an elevated rate and anti-oxidants levels in the body decline.
Many components of chillies are antioxidants. These include polyphenols, carotenoids, flavonoids etc. These components have radical scavenging and anti-proliferative actions.
Many varieties of chillies are also rich in anti-oxidant vitamins like Vitamin A, Vitamin C etc. These further add to the anti-oxidant capacity of the chillies.
Vitamin A has shown its efficacy in rheumatoid arthritis treatment by its immunomodulatory (modification of immune system response) action.
What does it mean?
It means inclusion of chillies in diet can be beneficial against the oxidative stress in body, which has a role in development of rheumatoid arthritis. The anti-oxidants from chilli can scavenge the reactive oxygen species and modify the immune system.
These actions are able to prevent cartilage destruction thus, resulting in an effective treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
Dosage of Capsaicin In Rheumatoid Arthritis
Capsaicin is mainly used in the form of creams, ointments, lotions or gels to alleviate the pain. These are applied on the skin of the affected area.
The concentrations of capsaicin in these medications vary between 0.025% and 0.1%.
The application of the capsaicin creams, gels, lotions or ointments can be done 3-4 times a day.
Capsaicin is also available in the form of high dose patch (8%).6 These are applied by medical practitioners on the affected area. These are used once in 3-4 months.
Chillies can also be included in the everyday diet but only a limited amount is recommendable.
Capsaicin being a natural irritant produces a burning sensation on the skin, which is normal. But sometimes these effects may be elevated and there can be some additional problems. Therefore, some precautions must be taken while using capsaicin or chillies.
Some of these precautions are:
1.Capsaicin should be used on advice of a medical practitioner only.
Self-medication of capsaicin should be avoided and it should be used upon advice of an expert only. This should be done to make sure that there will not be any adverse effect of its use on the body.
2.Capsaicin medications should not be applied on open sores or wounded skin.
Its application on wounds or sores can cause severe irritation. Wounds may even take longer to heal.
3.Capsaicin can cause serious allergies.
Capsaicin application can cause redness, irritation, itchiness or blistering on skin. The allergic reactions may also cause sneezing, cough, hoarseness or difficulty in breathing.
4.Contact of capsaicin with other parts of body except the affected area should be avoided.
This may cause irritation in those body parts. In case of contacts, the part should be washed properly with water.
5.Capsaicin applied area should not be covered with bandage or heating pad.
Covering a capsaicin applied area should not be covered as burning sensation may be increased.
6.Capsaicin should not be inhaled or swallowed.
Inhaling or swallowing capsaicin can cause serious irritation in the nose, throat or food pipe. This may cause breathing problems or difficulty in swallowing food and water.
7.Excessive consumption of chillies should be avoided.
Eating chillies in large amounts regularly can cause stomach ulcers, pain or bleeding after bowel movement, heartburn or even diarrhea.
Chillies/ capsaicin are a very effective natural product in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
Capsaicin is an extraordinary compound that has an exceptional pain relieving action. It is also a very effective anti-inflammatory substance.
The analgesic action of capsaicin is a unique mechanism which works on the sensory neurons. Its anti-inflammatory action is by inhibition of many pathways and molecules that are involved in inflammatory response.
Chillies have many anti-oxidant compounds as well. These compounds are capable of reducing oxidative stress. The reduction in the oxidative stress is capable of preventing as well as modifying the damage to the synovial tissue.
Use of capsaicin/ chillies along with exercise and other lifestyle changes can show very affirmative results in rheumatoid arthritis patients.