Hot Pepper Pain Relief

Those who suffer from joint pain or pains after a surgery may be able to look forward to a new form of relief: chili peppers. Houston researchers are studying the effect of a sort of chili pepper therapy for pain management. Laurie Johnson has more.

If you’ve ever bitten into a hot pepper, you know that burning fiery sensation. But you also know that after the heat goes away, your lips and tongue often feel slightly numb.

That effect comes from a component of the pepper called capsaicin. Dr. Howard Minkowitz with Memorial Hermann Hospital Memorial City says his team uses an experimental drug called Adlea to treat pain. It’s a highly purified, concentrated dose of capsaicin.

“And initially it causes irritation of the nerves and then kind of deadens them, so to speak, to result in long-lasting pain control.”

Capsaicin has been used before as a pain treatment, but usually topically. Minkowitz is using it internally to numb the pain associated with knee and hip replacement surgery.

“At the end of the surgery, just prior to the surgeon closing the operative wound, he would place it into the wound and at the end of five minutes the surgeon would suck the capsaicin out of the wound and just close the joint up in the normal fashion.”

The drug, Adlea is in Phase 3 clinical trials, just prior to FDA review. And Dr. Minkowitz says his studies are blinded, so he doesn’t know which patients received Adlea and which received a placebo.

Anecdotally at least, patients report lasting pain relief. The effects can last weeks or even months.

Laurie Johnson, KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.


Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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