The compound that gives a hot pepper its distinctive kick may also kick up your heart heath a notch, new research shows.
The study, presented at the 243rd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society this week, is the latest to show that capsaicin in chili peppers -- and its fiery-hot relatives – can lower cholesterol and helps to keep blood arteries open.
"Our research has reinforced and expanded knowledge about how these substances in chilies work in improving heart health," said Dr. Zhen-Yu Chen, a food and nutrition scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who presented the study. "We now have a clearer and more detailed portrait of their innermost effects on genes and other mechanisms that influence cholesterol and the health of blood vessels. It is among the first research to provide that information."
The new study, involving laboratory animals, adds to previous research that has suggested spicing food with chilies can lower blood pressure, cholesterol and the risk of blood clots. Capsaicin – the compound that gives cayennes, jalapenos, habaneros and other chili peppers their heat – is also used in topical creams to treat arthritis and pain.
Chen’s research team found capsaicin and a close chemical relative boost heart health in two ways – by lowering cholesterol levels and blocking the action of a gene that makes arteries contract, restricting the flow of blood to the heart and other organs.
"We certainly do not recommend that people start consuming chilies to an excess. A good diet is a matter of balance. And remember, chilies are no substitute for the prescription medications proven to be beneficial,” Chen noted, but added: “They may be a nice supplement, however, for people who find the hot flavor pleasant."