Rated at 60,000 on the Scoville heat index Cayenne is a pretty potent spice. It has the ability to add a lot of heat to a dish, without changing the flavor too dramatically. In most of our curries it's the main source of heat. It gives food a sharp heat that attacks the mouth with a certain vigor. It's also said to contain healing properties. I'm not sure I really believe some of the claims, but here's my opinion on the matter. When I eat food with a lot of cayenne in it I feel better. What I mean by "I feel better" refers to three things in particular that I feel better about. 1. If I eat Cayenne on a hot day, I feel cooler. 2. If I eat Cayenne I feel less pain and 3. If I eat lots of Cayenne I feel euphoric.
Lets take a closer look at these claims...
1. Cayenne cools you down. I feel it, and others do to. Here may be why. The element in peppers that makes them "hot" is a chemical called Capsaicin. This chemical does not hurt you, but it causes your nerves to send a signal to your brain that you're burning up. This causes your brain to start your bodies cool down process and bam! You don't just feel cooler, but you are. So eat Vindaloo on a hot day and you'll feel cool. We do :)
2. Cayenne for pain. Eat pile of Vindaloo or Chana Masala and see if you don't feel less pain, or feel anything. Once again Capsaicin is to credit. The chemical, according to some very smart sounding websites, blocks something called "substance P" that is responsible for carrying pain signals to your brain. This causes temporary pain relief...like a Tylenol but tastier. Give it try. Eat something and pour on the peppers, and tell me you don't feel better. For a real treat rub it in your eye and tell me what that does for your pain (really, don't, I do this all the time and it kills).
3. Euphoric? Really? Well, apparently what happens is the Capsaicin triggors the pain receptors in the mouth/throat/stomach and...other areas we're familiar with. The brain in response releases endorphin's, the natural pain killers, plus triggers the cardiovascular system to help you cool off. This natural high is the feeling of euphoria. Simple enough? Good.
So that's my take on it, take it for what you will. Some other cures that cayenne is attributed to include: arthritis pain relief, aid in digestion (seems to work for me), ciculation helper, cleansing sinuses, curing cancer, etc. etc ad nauseum.