WEDNESDAY, Feb. 25, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- University of Buffalo scientists say they have found how capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their fiery flavor, also works to relieve joint and muscle pain.
In a study appearing Tuesday in the journal PLoS Biology, researchers found that capsaicin flips on nerve-ending receptors that sense both pain and heat.
"The receptor acts like a gate to the neurons. When stimulated it opens, letting outside calcium enter the cells until the receptor shuts down, a process called desensitization," study leader Feng Qin, an associate professor at the university's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said in a news release issued by the institution.
The flood of calcium changes the levels at which the receptors detect pain signal. "In other words, the receptor had not desensitized per se, but its responsiveness range was shifted," Qin said.
While capsaicin has been used in folk medicines for generations, knowing how it works in relation to PIP2 may lead to developing other analgesics that ease pain without first causing irritation on their own, the team said.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about capsaicin .