Although I am not a scientist, I thought it might be interesting to give a down-to-earth run down on some of the information about this amazing gene found throughout our bodies (and in many animals too).
What is TRPV1? That can be a somewhat complicated answer, but to begin with, it stands for transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1. It is nicknamed the Capsaicin Receptor, because it is actually what lets us know that we have eaten or touched something spicy hot. It also performs other interesting related functions that we will go over here today.
I chose to write this article about the capsaicin receptor, because I believe it is an important part of understanding some of the health benefits of chili peppers and the capsaicin they contain.
I find it important to let everyone know about how chili peppers can improve their health and well being, and why they are such a great natural alternative to many products out there. Due to this, I also think it is important to let you know a little of the science behind it.
There are many, many super scientific terms and explanations associated with these genes that are quite difficult to understand if you aren’t some kind of medical buff. So, I will try to keep this in total layman’s terms, and make it a brief summary about this extremely fascinating part of our bodies.
A good place to start would probably be with breaking down the name of the gene. This may be a really easy way to begin to understand it properties.
Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid Type 1- TRPV1
Transient- This word refers to something that only lasts for a short time. It can also refer to “…a momentary variation in current, voltage, or frequency.” (Online dictionary)
Receptor- This refers to “…an organ or cell able to respond to light, heat, or other external stimulus and transmit a signal to a sensory nerve…a region of tissue, or a molecule in a cell membrane, that responds specifically to a particular neurotransmitter, hormone, antigen, or other substance.” (credit Dictionary)
Receptor Potential- This is basically a term used to describe the sensory action of the receptor. Something stimulates it, it senses it, then it sends the appropriate message along the path by means of triggering the next thing in line, like a neurotransmitter for example. Functioning a bit like an electrical current of information.
Vanilloid- This is the group of compounds containing the vanillyl group. Capsaicin belongs to this group. Another notable member of the vanilloid group includes vanilla beans and extracts.
Type 1- To explain this part I need to let you know that there are six TRP protein families. These are groups of ion channels throughout the cells of your body that respond to particular stimuli.
In this case TRP “V” stands for vanilloid, because that is what causes the reaction in this group. Within the TRPV group the capsaicin receptor discussed here today is the first of the sub-categories, making it TRPV1.
Capsaicin– I wanted to take this moment to also define capsaicin, as it is important to this discussion. It is the pungent chemical found in chili peppers that reacts with our bodies to cause the burning sensation we call spicy.
Capsaicin is one of several compounds that make up the family of capsaicinoids. It is colorless and odorless. In its pure form it can be seen as a crystal type substance and sometimes may appear a bit waxy.
Just to clarify, Capsicum is the genus of plants that peppers belong to, which also includes other plants such as potatoes, eggplants, and tomatoes. Capsaicinoid is the compound group that capsaicin belongs to, and capsaicin is the chemical that hot peppers produce.
How TRPV1 Works
Now that we have a basic understanding of what the name of this gene means, it will make it easier to understand what it does.
The main function of TRPV1 is basically to detect heat. This can come from multiple sources externally and internally.
The usual contributors to these receptors, that make us feel what we perceive as a burning sensation, are temperatures over 43 °C or 109 °F, capsaicin, acidic sources, and AITC, which is the compound found in things like horseradish and mustard.
When one of these activators touch the TRPV1 receptors located in your cells it sends a message to your brain that something is burning you. This can help you take the necessary course of action to relieve this pain if necessary.
This spicy burn is most likely a defense mechanism for plants that contain them, as most animals do not like the feeling and therefore avoid eating it.
The two main exceptions to this are birds and humans. Birds are immune to the effects of capsaicin, and as we know, many humans enjoy the effects of capsaicin…at least in tolerable doses.
TRPV1 seems to play a crucial role in telling our body how to regulate temperature, and when to cool itself down. This is probably why we begin to sweat after eating something spicy. Our body is triggering this reaction in an effort to cool our body temperature, even though we aren’t actually hot.
When TRVP1 is initially stimulated it can increase sensitivity to the area, but after prolonged exposure it can desensitize the receptors, and actually close them off for a period of time.
This desensitization is the main reason why capsaicin has been used for centuries for pain relief. In recent years, the study into capsaicin’s affects on these pain centers has become increasingly focused.
Currently, most pain relief products on the market are under 1% capsaicin. Many capsaicin advocates are pushing for higher levels of capsaicin to be approved for over the counter health aides. From what I have researched, it seems to be the consensus that levels closer to 8% are much more beneficial.
If used properly capsaicin may end up being a miracle for chronic pain sufferers. It may even only need to be applied a few times a year to keep a problem area pain free.
Of course it needs to be used in a safe way as to not desensitize something that should not be. Also it is important to make sure the body is still regulating temperature correctly when we choose to shut off certain triggers.
The research and possibilities are really incredible and exciting.
There are also many nutritional benefits to chili peppers, hot and mild. To read more about that check out my recent article- Hot Pepper Health Benefits and you can also check out this new article about how capsaicin can increase your metabolism.
I hope I was able to successfully share with you a basic understanding of the TRVP1 gene. Now that we realize how it works, and what it does, it really helps us see the potential of capsaicin as a pain killer. There are many products that attempt to harness this power, included creams, lotions, supplements, and heat patches to name a few.
I recently did an article comparing two capsaicin pain relief patches that are currently available. They are a really great option as an alternative to the standard adhesive heat patches that you may use. For more information on them and their benefits you can click on the highlighted text.
As always, if you have any questions, comments or suggestions please let me know by leaving a comment below.