NOV 3, 2023
Can Spicy Food Relieve Pain?
Spicy foods have long been associated with tantalizing taste buds and adding an extra kick to our meals. But can they be used to relieve pain too?
Read time: 4 minutes
Spicy foods have long been associated with tantalizing taste buds and adding an extra kick to our meals. From fiery curries to zesty salsas, spices have an uncanny ability to elevate our culinary experiences. But, beyond just adding a zest to our palates, could spicy foods also have therapeutic properties? Specifically, can they help alleviate pain? As it turns out, research suggests that they can. So let's talk about the science behind the pain-relieving properties of spicy foods and highlight three specific spices that can potentially help ease pain and recipes to incorporate spices into your protein shakes.
The Science Behind Spicy Food and Pain Relief
When we think of spicy foods, we often associate them with the burning sensation they provide. This sensation is due to capsaicin, a compound found in many spicy foods, particularly chili peppers. Interestingly, capsaicin can interact with our pain receptors, temporarily numbing them and providing relief. But what are the other benefits?
Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury or infection. However, chronic inflammation can lead to pain and other health issues. Many spices have been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties. For instance, curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been widely studied for its anti-inflammatory effects. By decreasing inflammation, these spices can play a role in pain relief.
Increasing Blood Flow
Improved blood circulation can aid in faster healing and pain reduction. Capsaicin, for example, can help to dilate blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the affected area. This can be particularly beneficial for those suffering from conditions caused by poor circulation.
Thermogenesis and Caloric Burn
Spicy foods can temporarily increase our metabolic rate. This phenomenon, known as thermogenesis, results in the body burning more calories. While this might not directly relate to pain relief, it can be beneficial for overall health and vitality.
Many people report feeling an energy boost after consuming spicy foods. This can be attributed to the increased heart rate and adrenaline production caused by capsaicin. An energy boost can help individuals stay active and manage pain more effectively.
3 Spices to Consider for Alleviating Pain
Ginger has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties. And studies have long been conducted into the pain lowering effect of ginger.
Turmeric, a staple in Indian cuisine, can be as effective as some anti-inflammatory drugs without the side effects. This makes it a natural choice for those looking to alleviate back pain.
Cayenne pepper is rich in capsaicin, the aforementioned compound responsible for its fiery kick, but it’s also a great source of vitamins such as: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin K.
Adding Spices to your Protein Shakes
Spices can also add a unique twist to your protein shake, elevating the flavor profile and providing potential health benefits. Here are two protein shake recipes that include spices:
Spiced Chai Protein Shake
- 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk (or any milk of your choice)
- 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder
- 1 chai tea bag (or 1 tsp of chai spice blend)
- 1/2 banana
- 1 tbsp almond butter (optional, for added creaminess and protein)
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- A pinch of ground cloves
- A pinch of ground cardamom
- A pinch of black pepper (for an authentic chai kick)
- Ice cubes
- Sweetener of choice, to taste (e.g., honey, agave, stevia)
- If using a chai tea bag, steep it in a quarter cup of hot water for about 5 minutes and then let it cool.
- In a reliable blender, combine the cooled chai tea (or your chai spice blend), almond milk, vanilla protein powder, banana, almond butter, and all the spices.
- Add ice cubes and blend until smooth.
- Taste and adjust the sweetness if necessary.
Turmeric & Ginger Golden Protein Shake
- 1 cup of coconut milk (or any milk of your choice)
- 1 scoop of vanilla or plain protein powder
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger (or a small piece of fresh ginger)
- A pinch of black pepper (to enhance turmeric absorption)
- 1/2 banana (for creaminess)
- 1 tbsp chia seeds (for added protein and omega-3s)
- 1 tsp honey or maple syrup (optional, for sweetness)
- Ice cubes
- In a blender, combine the coconut milk, protein powder, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, banana, chia seeds, and optional sweetener.
- Add ice cubes and blend until smooth.
Spices like turmeric and ginger have strong flavors, so you might want to adjust the quantities according to your taste preference. Always start with a smaller amount and add more if needed.
While it's essential to remember that spices alone may not completely cure chronic pain conditions, they can serve as a valuable tool in your arsenal against discomfort. As such, incorporating ginger, turmeric, and cayenne pepper into your diet can offer both powerful flavors and potential therapeutic benefits. And, as always, if you're considering adding these spices as a remedy for back pain or any other health condition, it's wise to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure they're right for you.
Written by Matthew Stogdon
Matt has been writing for two decades, across print and digital media. He is also an accomplished filmmaker, with several accolades under his belt.