An Idaho State University researcher says an unlikely food item - red hot peppers - could produce a new anti-inflammatory pain easer.

The chemical capsaicin gives peppers their bite. But research has shown that it can be an effective pain reliever - if the subject can get past the pain when it is first applied.Thomas LaHann, associate pharmacy professor, has been researching the chemical for almost 13 years. He recently came to ISU.

While investigating for a new anti-inflammatory substance, he discovered research by a little-known Hungarian scientist who worked with capsaicin in the 1950s.

"The man was 25 to 30 years ahead of his time. His research showed that this substance was a novel anti-inflammatory. Few paid attention to his work because he was so far ahead of his time."

LaHann had several of the researcher's papers translated.

Currently, two topical capsaicin preparations are marketed to more than 10,000 individuals. "These preparations still have the nasty side effects and are a little risky. Almost 25 percent of the people using capsaicin will discontinue the treatment because of the initial pain.

"We know when this drug is injected systemically, it kills nerve cells. We still are researching to see if, when applied directly to the skin, it also kills nerve cells. We also know that when given by intravenous injection, capsaicin is 10 times more lethal than cyanide," he said.

Injected capsaicin also affects the thermo-regulatory system. "After receiving a capsaicin injection, an animal cannot tell when its body temperature is getting too hot. It seems to receive no signals."

LaHann also believes capsaicin could help prevent heart attacks, because it prevents the buildup of platelets, which can cause blockage in the heart.

People in countries where large numbers of peppers are consumed have fewer heart attacks, he said.