Researchers at the King's College, London, led by Professor Susan Brain, are hoping to harness the effects of capsaicin to relieve arthritic pain - without the burning side effects of chilli peppers.
Capsaicin has been used in folk medicine as a remedy for rheumatism. The humble red chilli pepper has also been in the news recently with research linking the spice to inhibiting the growth of pancreatic cancer cells, as well as suggesting it may cut fat and energy intake when added to the diet.
"Pain from arthritic joints has serious effects on quality of life, and the use of anti-inflammatory pain killers can be associated with adverse side effects," explained Professor Brain.
"We know that the activation of a mechanism called TRPV1 on pain-sensitive nerves is involved in arthritis models. However, little is known of mechanisms that link the inflammatory and pain-sensitive components."
Brain said that it is known that capsaicin can stimulate the TRPV1 mechanism and that the new project is designed to expand the understanding of how capsaicin works to combat the effects of one of the best-known inflammatory substances, TNF-alpha.
A spokesperson from the charity Arthritis Research Campaign, which is funding the £127,000 two-year project, said that any new initiative to help reduce the pain of arthritis is welcomed, but stressed the project was in its very early stages.
"We know that capsaicin has a pain-relieving effect when used in cream form, so it makes sense to try and harness its anti-inflammatory properties into a tablet," the spokesperson told NutraIngredients.com.
The tablet could be dietary supplement with red chilli pepper extracts. "This is possibly what the researchers are hoping for," said the spokesperson. "But it's too early to speculate."
But increasing dietary intake of chilli peppers would probably not be a good idea.
Approximately seven million people in the UK alone are reported to have long-term health problems associated with arthritis. Around 206 million working days were lost in the UK in 1999-2000, equal to £18bn (€26bn) of lost productivity.