Just imagine how impressive it would be to be able to eat raw ghost peppers — one of the fieriest of all chiles, as much as 10 times hotter than habaneros — by the mouthful. Spectators would look on with wonder, and you would undoubtedly become an instant celebrity. You might even score your own television show.
It might come as a shock, but there is a chemical out there that could actually make this hypothetical situation a reality.
Scientists have been experimenting with a synthetic version of capsaicin known as capsazepine, which neutralizes the TrpV1 pain receptor (also known as the capsaicin receptor). Without this receptor, the body doesn’t register the painful effects that come from spicy food. This technology is not being offered for use by recreational chile heads, but is actually being studied as potential alternative to pain medication.
The capsaicin found in chiles has been linked to a number of health benefits, among them the relief of arthritis pain, the soothing of dermatologic conditions, and a reduction in the expression of proteins that control the growth of prostate cancer cells — but its heat related sides effects overshadow their potential benefits. Capsazepine offers all the potential health benefits of capsaicin minus the burn — as well as preventing the burn from occurring in the first place.
Before you run out in search of this miracle spice remedy, though, there are a few things you should know. According to Dr. Daniel Kopp, M.D., and former Chief Medical Officer at the University of Missouri Health Sciences Center and Medical School, capsazepine, “is quite expensive…and can only be purchased by researchers as its safety in humans hasn’t yet been confirmed.” Another drawback of capsazepine is that it only prevents the burning sensation; it doesn’t remedy it, which means in order for it to work it needs to be taken before capsaicin is ingested. Most importantly however, the ability to eat unlimited amount of potentially hazardous quantities of capsaicin could result in serious health complications. You might not feel the agony of the chili going in, but you will certainly feel it on the way out.