Hot Toemales

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Got cold feet? Maybe what you need is a little seasoning. Cayenne pepper can warm you up from the outside and the inside, says Dr. Linda Halteman of Healing Hands Chiropractic in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. "They actually rate cayenne by BTUs," she says. For 19 years, Halteman has used cayenne pepper to treat the cold feet of skiers, loggers, and even her kids.

"Pour it from a shaker to coat the inside of ski boots and the outside of socks -- then there's no possibility of burning," Halteman recommends. (This reporter's experiment with a direct application to naked skin resulted in three days of burning toes and orange feet, despite repeated showering.)

Opinions on this herbal remedy, however, are mixed. "Don't do it," says Dr. Murray Hamlet, director of research for the U.S. Army's Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. While cayenne's active ingredient, capsaicin, creates a sensation of warmth when applied topically, it also reduces a chemical messenger in the nerves called substance P. Depleting it blocks pain messages to the brain. "Your feet say, 'We're warm,' but actually they aren't," Hamlet says.

Halteman disagrees: "I've never seen any adverse effects." Since cold toes typically result from poor circulation, and capsaicin is believed to stimulate circulation, Halteman also suggests taking cayenne pepper internally by way of a "circulation cocktail."

Circulation Cocktail:
1. Boil fresh ginger root in water, covered, for 20 minutes (one slice per cup).
2. Mix 1/10 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup.
3. Pour mix over ginger brew and adjust to taste.