Cayenne and Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are more painful than migraines, affecting men more than women. The attacks last 30 to 45 minutes, can occur several times per day and last for weeks or months. At an International Headache Congress in Washington, D.C. (July, 1991) 1,000 headache researchers from 43 countries heard about some of the latest research, including pressurized oxygen, bright lights, and cayenne extract.

The active ingredient in cayenne or red pepper (Capsicum slap.) is an oil-based compound called capsaicin. This chemical has made news recently as a new topical application for shingles caused by the herpes zoster virus. Now one study indicates that cluster headache sufferers got significant relief when a capsaicin solution was applied to the nostrils on the same side of the head as the headache. There was no relief when the capsaicin was applied to the other nostril only. Capsaicin apparently works by depleting "Substance P," a pain transmitter in the central nervous system.

One of the presentations at the conference noted that the temples of headache sufferers indicate a heat loss during cluster attacks. Rubbing a capsaicin ointment to the temples helped keep sufferers headache-free on days when they would normally experience pain. [Ed. note: Capsaicin has a noted counter-irritant action; i.e., it produces circulation to the skill area. This may account for the increased heat in the temples, and possibly the apparent prophylactic activity against cluster headaches.] (Associated Press in the Austin-American Statesman, July 4, 1991)

American Botanical Council.

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