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Capsaicin and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

By Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Founder of The Paleo Diet
November 9, 2009
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Dr. Cordain, I was interested in an issue of The Insider in which you covered inflammation and Capsaicin, because of long standing problems (since the early 1980's) with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and also various bowel problems. I have been doing quite well for the last seven or so years (though I am 70 now) thanks to The Paleo Diet, but am not fully recovered. With regard to your list of foods to avoid, I do avoid, completely, all those foods except pepper with capsaisin. Over the course of a week, I consume 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper. I do this specifically to help with widespread inflammation as Capsaicin in known for healing inflammation. I am alarmed now that something I am eating is actually working against my recovery and healing, but I can't understand why a product that reduces the inflammation connected with CFS and bowel disease would be contributing to those diseases. Perhaps you made this obvious in your report, and I simply didn't understand it. But if you could make it more clear to me, in layman's language, I would be very grateful.

Thank you.

Dr. Cordain's Response:

Yes, capsaicin has anti-inflammatory properties. However, in case of irritable bowel syndrome, capsaicin is able to increase intestinal permeability and this condition can increase the activity of the immune system lining the gut, which means low grade chronic inflammation, despite capsaicin's anti-inflammatory properties. In other words, increased intestinal permeability (and hence inflammation) exceeds the anti-inflammatory capacity of capsaicin. If you didn't have irritable bowel syndrome capsaicin would be an anti-inflammatory nutrient. As you may know, increased intestinal permeability allows increased passage of gut bacteria and nutrient antigens into circulation, and this is associated to CFS.

On the other hand, in the case of intestinal irritability, we recommend the use of several supplements such as Probiotics (6-9 billions/day), Prebiotics (2-4 grams/day, L-glutamine (0,2grs/kg/day), Zinc (25mg/day), vitamin D3 (test your blood levels and be sure to be in the 50-70ng/ml range) and omega-3 fatty acids (4 grams a day at the beginning).

Cordially,

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

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