Science Questions

Sun, 6th Aug 2006

Part of the show Q&A and What Does Derek Look Like?


Charles in Walla Walla asked:

Does eating chillies help with neuralgia?


It's not the actual eating of the chillies. The thing that makes chillies hot is called capsaicin. Not only does it make things taste hot but can also be used as a topical ointment on the skin if you have various pain syndromes. One of those is shingles. If you've had chickenpox in the past then you have chickenpox living in your nerve fibres in your body for the rest of your life. Periodically it can come back out and cause a patch of chickenpox vesicles or blisters on one patch of skin. After they go away, it can be tremendously painful. However researchers have found that if you apply this capsaicin to the painful area, it can actually help to relieve the pain. This could possibly be because pain is mediated in the nervous system by a class of tiny nerve fibres referred to as C-fibres. Capsaicin activated those nerve fibres and in some cases activates them to death. This turns them off and indirectly makes them less sensitive, which is why the pain goes away.


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