Have you ever drizzled or even drenched your dishes with spicy Sriracha sauce? If you have, you may testify that it helps make any bland (or not so bland) meal taste better. For those who don’t know what Sriracha is – it’s the bright red hot sauce named after the coastal city of the Chonburi province in Eastern Thailand, Si Racha. It’s served in Thai and Vietnamese restaurants and is used as a dipping sauce for all kinds of foods, especially seafood.
What’s in it? Sriracha sauce is made of chili pepper paste, distilled vinegar, garlic, and salt – just like most other hot sauces. Some of the ingredients have great health benefits. Garlic has been long known to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and improve blood circulation. Chili peppers and jalapeños have two potent compounds in them – capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin. Capsaicin is known to boost metabolism, endorphins and serotonin, which can perk up one’s mood and enhance memory. Clinical studies show that in small doses it may help to grow your hair, but in larger does it can also quite possibly have a negative effect on your hair.
While there isn’t any research on the effects of Sriracha specifically on hair, there’s a significant amount of research on the effects of capsaicin on your health.
Capsaicin is a pain reliever, and is an active ingredient in many topical pain creams and ointments. It has proven positive effects on:
• Pain including joint pain
• Inflammation such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
• Nervous system disorders such as diabetic neuropathy and shingles
• Skin conditions such as psoriasis
• Mouth sores due to chemotherapy or radiation
• Preventing ulcers and other digestive issues
According to a 2010 study performed by the UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition, capsaicin is believed to help people lose weight and burn calories. It can increase serotonin levels in the brain and releases endorphins that uplift one’s mood. The list of benefits goes on.
Scientific study: Capsaicins positive effects on hair growth
Capsaicin may have a positive effect on hair growth. Although not overwhelming, the results are conclusive. For example, there was a study performed on the effects of capsaicin intake on hair growth in mice and in humans who simultaneously suffered from alopecia (hair loss).
In both mice and humans, researchers observed and measured the levels of the Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), a protein that plays a significant role in the regulation, growth and development of tissues and hair. One group of wild-type mice was given capsaicin and isoflavone (a plant-derived chemical) and the other group was given only capsaicin. Results showed that although one group experienced more hair growth than the other, both groups experienced an increase in dermal IGF-1 and hair growth.
The human study group that was given 6mg/day of capsaicin and 75 mg/day of isoflavone experienced hair growth after 5 months of oral administration. The study suggested that a combination of capsaicin and isoflavone may increase IGF-1 levels in hair follicles and promote hair growth. Thus, for those suffering from alopecia, men and women may benefit by including a regimen of capsaicin and isoflavone supplementation.
Different peppers – different capsaicin levels
The amount of capsaicin in a chili pepper is measured by the Scoville Heat Scale, founded by chemist, Wilbur Scoville in 1912. The scale measures how much a pepper oil extract needs to be sugar-water diluted until its heat is no longer detected. Sriracha measures 1,000 – 2,500 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Ripened Sriracha measures on the upper end of jalapeño peppers – 2,500-8,000 SHU. While Sriracha is “hot,” it isn’t as strong as other hot sauces on the market – for example those containing scotch bonnet, or capsaicin-rich habanero peppers (which can measure anywhere between 150,000-350,000 SHUs). At this time, the Bhut Jolokia chili pepper holds the distinction of being the world’s hottest chili pepper. The Chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico State University reported that the capsaicin content of the Bhut Jolokia measures over 1,000,000 SHUs. Pure Capsaicin measures 16,000,000 SHUs.
(Note: 100 mg of chili powder contains 0.13 mg of capsaicin. One tablespoon of ground chili pepper would contain anywhere between 0.8 mg and 480 mg of capsaicin.)
Capsaicin’s Adverse Effects to Hair Follicles
Many capsaicin based pain and inflammation medications target the VR1/TRVP1 receptors. As these receptors are involved in mediating body temperature and transmitting heat and pain sensations, blocking them leads to a decrease in pain. The VR1/TRVP1 receptors can be found in large amounts in the Central nervous system (CNS), and the Peripheral nervous system. However, research has shown that the receptors are not just limited to sensory neurons and pain transmission. They are also expressed on the human scalp and hair follicles, and are involved in human hair growth and inhibition. More studies are needed to explore and define the physiological signaling.
One in-vitro study suggests that pure capsaicin has adverse effects on hair growth in a dose-dependent manner. The higher the capsaicin concentration exposed to the VR1 receptors, the higher the inhibition of hair growth (regression), which causes premature hair follicle catagen and activation of hair growth inhibitors as per the diagram below.
According to diagram A, all it took was 1 mmol (.01 mg/dL) of capsaicin to lessen hair growth by approximately 1%. Respectively, 10mmol (.11 mg/dL) of capsaicin lessen hair growth by approximately 30%., and the largest amount of capasaicin, 30 mmol (or .34 mg/dL) lessened hair growth by approximately 50%, compared to the control group. .34 mg/DL, can be found in approximately 261.5 mg of chili powder.
Can too much chili pepper cause hair loss?
It may be quite possible that consuming too much Sriracha or any other hotter chili pepper over a period of time may stunt hair growth or cause your hair to go into premature catagen phase. Based on available scientific information, TRVP1 exposure to capsaicin causes excessive heat, abrasive damage and inflammation to nerves. Nerves are present around hair follicles and act as receptors to pain stimuli. In case of extreme exposure, capsaicin acts as an inflammatory stimulus, which triggers an inflammatory response by the body, which can lead to tissue damage.
According to research, capsaicin can lead to reduction in sensory function, and sensory nerve fibers. Thus, as TRVP1 is heavily present around hair follicles, sensory nerve endings, dermal blood vessels, sebaceous glands, mast cells, etc., inflammation caused by a high concentration of capsaicin can cause adverse effects to sensory nerves and tissues surrounding hair follicles. Over time, sensory nerve damage (sensory neuropathy) can cause changes in skin and hair, as well as to joints and bones.
Aside from capsaicin overdose; diabetes, kidney disorders, hypothyroidism, chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, and chronic deficiencies in Vitamins E, B1, B6, and B12 (which are essential to nerve health and functioning); can cause peripheral nerve damage and lead to hair loss and damage. Further human studies are needed to understand and confirm the physiological pathway.
Side effects of having too much chili sauce
The risk of accidental overdose or poisoning from hot peppers is almost zero, considering the low concentration of capsaicin in an ordinary hot pepper. One would need to consume a large amount of pure capsaicin crystals (chili pepper extract) to have damaging and lethal effects. There are other side effects more common with consuming capsaicin regularly or too much – including skin irritation, respiratory irritation, digestive problems such as upset stomach, stomach pain, and irritation, and nausea. If you are a heartburn or ulcer sufferer, consuming high or even moderate levels of capsaicin can increase the severity of the symptoms but will not cause either heartburn or ulcers. The same low risk of overdosing also applies to topical capsaicin which is available as low concentration capsaicin (generally in the range of 0.025–0.1%) creams, lotions, patches and ointments intended for daily use, and the branded capsaicin patch, Qutenza, for neuropathic pain is available as a single dose, 8% capsaicin patch.
Capsaicin supplements for weight loss
If you are considering taking a capsaicin supplement for weight loss, be cautious as to the dosage you are taking. Some supplements (cayenne pepper supplements) offer at least .25% of capsaicin or 25mg of capsaicin per 100 mg of chili extract. Too much usage can cause adverse reactions.
To cap it all off
For all those Sriracha and hot sauce fans – fret not! In moderation, your capsaicin intake from spicy foods and condiments can be beneficial. Of course, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet, including all the necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients for your hair and overall health.
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