Hot Sauce in the Nose for Cluster Headaches?

Hot Sauce in the Nose for Cluster Headaches?
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Daily application of capsaicin, the burning component of hot peppers, into the nostril on the affected side of the head of cluster headache sufferers results in an 80% therapeutic response rate.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Your nose will start running, hurting, and sneezing. (Capsaicin is the burning component of hot peppers). Why would you do such an experiment? Anyone who’s handled the compound in the lab knows that if it gets up your nose, it causes “an intense burning sensation.” However, this phenomenon has not been formally investigated. “Therefore, it appeared worthwhile to study the effects produced by the topical application of capsaicin in the human [nose].” It therefore appeared worthwhile because it never had been done before? Okay.

So, they took some medical students, dripped some in their nose, and they started sneezing, burning, and snotting. Describing the pain as like eight or nine, on a scale of one to ten. No surprise, but here’s the interesting part. What do you think happened when they repeated the experiment the next day? You’d think they might be sensitized to it, you know, still all irritated, and so it might hurt even worse. But no; it hurt less. Then, they did it again the next day, and the next. By day five, it hardly hurt at all; they didn’t even get a runny nose—no sneezing. Came back the next week, day ten, and still nothing.

Sheesh, were they, like, permanently numbed? No, after a month or so, the desensitization wore off, and they were back in agony whenever they tried rubbing it in their nose. What the researchers think is happening is that the pain fibers—the nerves that carry pain sensation—dumped so much of the pain neurotransmitter (called substance P) that they ran out. Day after day of this, the nerves had exhausted their stores, and could no longer transmit pain messages until they made more substance P from scratch—which took a couple weeks. This gave researchers an idea.

There’s a rare headache syndrome called cluster headache. It’s been described as one of the worst pains humans experience. Few, if any, medical disorders are more painful. It’s nicknamed the “suicide headache,” because “patients often consider taking or have taken their lives” over it.

It’s thought to be caused by arterial dilation putting pressure on the trigeminal nerve in the face. Treatments involve everything from nerve blocks to Botox to surgery. But, hey, that same nerve goes down to the nose. What if we cause the whole nerve to dump all its substance P? “Preventative effect of repeated nasal applications of capsaicin in cluster headache.”

Same as before, capsaicin in the nose, and by day five, they could hardly feel it any more. Note, though, that these were cluster headache sufferers, and so, what was rated as an eight or nine on the pain scale by the wimpy medical students was like, maybe a three or four by those “used to the violence of the cluster headache attacks.” Having achieved desensitization, what happened to their headaches?

Well, cluster headaches are one-sided headaches: you only get pain on one side of your head. So, those who had rubbed capsaicin in the opposite nostril, on the wrong side of the head—nothing happened. They started out having like 40 attacks a day, and a month later, the headaches were still going strong.

But, those that rubbed the capsaicin in the nostril on the side of the head where the headaches were cut the average number of attacks in half. And, in fact, half the patients were cured; the cluster headaches were gone completely. All in all, 80% responded—at least equal, if not better than, all the current therapies out there.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Swamibu via flickr, btarski via Wikimedia, and Wikiphoto. Thanks to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their Keynote help.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Your nose will start running, hurting, and sneezing. (Capsaicin is the burning component of hot peppers). Why would you do such an experiment? Anyone who’s handled the compound in the lab knows that if it gets up your nose, it causes “an intense burning sensation.” However, this phenomenon has not been formally investigated. “Therefore, it appeared worthwhile to study the effects produced by the topical application of capsaicin in the human [nose].” It therefore appeared worthwhile because it never had been done before? Okay.

So, they took some medical students, dripped some in their nose, and they started sneezing, burning, and snotting. Describing the pain as like eight or nine, on a scale of one to ten. No surprise, but here’s the interesting part. What do you think happened when they repeated the experiment the next day? You’d think they might be sensitized to it, you know, still all irritated, and so it might hurt even worse. But no; it hurt less. Then, they did it again the next day, and the next. By day five, it hardly hurt at all; they didn’t even get a runny nose—no sneezing. Came back the next week, day ten, and still nothing.

Sheesh, were they, like, permanently numbed? No, after a month or so, the desensitization wore off, and they were back in agony whenever they tried rubbing it in their nose. What the researchers think is happening is that the pain fibers—the nerves that carry pain sensation—dumped so much of the pain neurotransmitter (called substance P) that they ran out. Day after day of this, the nerves had exhausted their stores, and could no longer transmit pain messages until they made more substance P from scratch—which took a couple weeks. This gave researchers an idea.

There’s a rare headache syndrome called cluster headache. It’s been described as one of the worst pains humans experience. Few, if any, medical disorders are more painful. It’s nicknamed the “suicide headache,” because “patients often consider taking or have taken their lives” over it.

It’s thought to be caused by arterial dilation putting pressure on the trigeminal nerve in the face. Treatments involve everything from nerve blocks to Botox to surgery. But, hey, that same nerve goes down to the nose. What if we cause the whole nerve to dump all its substance P? “Preventative effect of repeated nasal applications of capsaicin in cluster headache.”

Same as before, capsaicin in the nose, and by day five, they could hardly feel it any more. Note, though, that these were cluster headache sufferers, and so, what was rated as an eight or nine on the pain scale by the wimpy medical students was like, maybe a three or four by those “used to the violence of the cluster headache attacks.” Having achieved desensitization, what happened to their headaches?

Well, cluster headaches are one-sided headaches: you only get pain on one side of your head. So, those who had rubbed capsaicin in the opposite nostril, on the wrong side of the head—nothing happened. They started out having like 40 attacks a day, and a month later, the headaches were still going strong.

But, those that rubbed the capsaicin in the nostril on the side of the head where the headaches were cut the average number of attacks in half. And, in fact, half the patients were cured; the cluster headaches were gone completely. All in all, 80% responded—at least equal, if not better than, all the current therapies out there.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Swamibu via flickr, btarski via Wikimedia, and Wikiphoto. Thanks to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their Keynote help.

Nota del Doctor

This extraordinary finding reminds me of the findings in Lavender for Migraine Headaches.

Headache sufferers may also want to experiment with avoiding potential triggers such as aspartame (see Diet Soda & Preterm Birth). Saffron may also help with headaches (see Saffron for the Treatment of PMS) as well as avoiding certain parasites (see Pork Tapeworms on the Brain and Avoiding Epilepsy through Diet). A note of caution, though: pregnant migraine sufferers seeking natural remedies should be wary of advice they may get (see Dangerous Advice from Health Food Store Employees).

Those eating healthy diets are less likely to be on pain medications in general (see Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants). See, for example:

Might the consumption of hot peppers also successfully desensitize the gut? Find out in Cayenne Pepper for Irritable Bowel Syndrome & Chronic Indigestion.

For further context, check out my associated blog posts: Natural Treatment for Cluster Headaches and Cayenne for Irritable Bowel.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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