Tiger Balm and capsaicin

The chemical compound capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) is the active component of chili known internationally as chili peppers, which are plants belonging to the genus Capsicum. It is irritating to mammals, including humans, and produces a burning sensation in any tissue that it comes in contact with. Capsaicin and several related components are called capsaicinoids and are produced as a secondary metabolite by chili peppers, probably as a barrier against herbivores. The pure capsaicin is a hydrophobic compound, colorless, odorless, crystalline fatty acids.
Now, why are we talking about this weird chemical compound? Well, first of all this is not a weird compound – it’s a hundred percent natural compound that has the capability to initiate numbness in local tissues. Let’s cut the chase – we need to discuss it because Tiger balm is one of the few medicines that contain this compound in its natural form and its effect is put to good use in combination with other herbs to increase the pain threshold of the body.
Characteristics of the substance
Capsaicin is present in large quantities in the seeds and fleshy fruits of plants of the genus Capsicum. Such fruits typically evolved to assist in seed dispersal by attracting animals that eat fruits and swallow the seeds, which pass through the digestive tract and are subsequently deposited elsewhere. So it’s kind of paradoxical that the plant does so much to create fleshy looking fruits that only contain seeds that are non-friendly to mammal taste buds.
The seeds of Capsicum plants however are predominantly dispersed by birds, in which capsaicin acts as an analgesic rather than an annoying substance. The seeds of chili peppers pass through the digestive tract of birds without damage, while those consumed by mammals do not germinate at all. The presence of capsaicin in Tiger balm therefore protects affected organs and the hot sensation creates a wall around the nerve junctions to prevent the passage of “pain signal”. How’s that for innovation?

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