Red hot chili peppers are proving to be beneficial in the war on hypertension. For those with high blood pressure, chili peppers might be just what the doctor ordered. This according to a study reported in the August issue of Cell Metabolism, a Cell Press publication.
While the active ingredient that gives the peppers their heat – a compound known as capsaicin – might set your mouth on fire, it also leads blood vessels to relax. The research was performed on hypertensive rats.
“We found that long-term dietary consumption of capsaicin, one of the most abundant components in chili peppers very beneficial. Stated Zhiming Zhu of Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China.
Those effects depend on the chronic activation of something called the transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) channel found in the lining of blood vessels. Activation of the channel leads to an increase in production of nitric oxide. Nitrous oxide is a gaseous molecule known to protect blood vessels against inflammation and dysfunction, Zhu explained.
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Capsaicin Research Studies
The study isn’t the first to look for a molecular link between capsaicin and lower blood pressure. However, earlier studies were based on acute or short-term exposure to the chemical, with some conflicting results. Zhu says their study is the first to examine the effects of long-term treatment with capsaicin in rats with high blood pressure.
The findings in rats should be confirmed in humans through epidemiological analysis the researchers said. In fact, there were already some clues. The prevalence of hypertension is over 20% in Northeastern China compared to 10-14% in Southwestern China, including Sichuan, Guozhuo, Yunnan, Hunan, and Chongqing, where Zhu is from.
“People in these regions like to eat hot and spicy foods with a lot of chili peppers,” Zhu says. “For example, a very famous local food in my hometown, Chongqing, is the spicy hot pot.”
Capsaicin Helps Prevent Heart Attacks
It isn’t yet clear just how many capsaicin-containing chili peppers a day you’d have to eat to “keep the doctor away,” although that’s a question that should now be examined in greater detail, according to researchers.
A recent study found that capsaicin in peppers might even prevent or reduce damage to your heart during a heart attack.
Two years ago, scientists from the University of Cincinnati triggered heart attacks in mice. Then they applied capsaicin cream to different spots of the skin during the heart attack.
The capsaicin triggered a powerful reaction in the central nervous system. These signals helped to protect the heart muscle. In fact, the mice that got the capsaicin cream experienced 85 percent less cardiac cell death compared to the mice that got nothing.
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According to Keith Jones, Ph.D., the study’s lead researcher, “Topical capsaicin has no known serious adverse effects and could be easily applied in an ambulance or emergency room setting well in advance of coronary tissue death.”
Plus, Dr. Jones said capsaicin cream might protect the heart during those long minutes it takes to open the blocked vessel.
Jones believes capsaicin cream works because it tricks the body. Your skin senses the “hot” cream and sends out signals to douse the fire. Your body goes into high alert squelching inflammation. Apparently, it can even save critical muscle fibers during a heart attack.
Capsaicin: Other Health Benefits
Fights Cancer: A study published in Cancer Research found that capsaicin caused cancer cells to commit suicide. The substance caused almost 80 percent of prostate cancer cells to die in mice, and prostate tumors treated with capsaicin were about one-fifth the size of those in untreated mice.
“Capsaicin inhibits the growth of human prostate cancer cells in petri dishes and mice,” says lead researcher Dr. H. Phillip Koeffler, director of hematology and oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Provide Pain Relief: A topical form of capsaicin is a recognized treatment for osteoarthritis pain, and may also help alleviate pain from diabetic neuropathy.
Capsaicin is also known to inhibit Substance P, a neuropeptide that is the key transmitter of pain to the brain. Substance P can cause swelling of nerve fibers, which may result in headaches and sinus symptoms. Studies have found that capsaicin both relieves and prevents cluster headaches, migraine headaches and sinus headaches.
Prevent Sinusitis and Relieve Congestion: Capsaicin has potent antibacterial properties that fight and prevent chronic sinus infections, or sinusitis. Because it is so hot, it also helps to stimulate secretions that help clear mucus from your nose, thereby relieving nasal congestion. This phytochemical may also help relieve sinus-related allergy symptoms.
More Powerful Benefits
Fights Inflammation: Capsaicin is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. It works by inhibiting Substance P, which is associated with inflammatory processes. Capsaicin is being looked at as a potential treatment for arthritis, psoriasis and diabetic neuropathy.
Soothe Intestinal Disease: A Duke University study found that capsaicin may lead to a cure for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The substance can also help to kill bacteria such as H. pylori, which can help prevent stomach ulcers.
Burns Fat and Lose Weight: Capsaicin is a thermogenic agent, which means it increases metabolic activity. This, in turn, helps to burn calories and fat. Many popular “fat-burning” supplements on the market contain capsaicin, as the substance may significantly increase metabolic activity for over 20 minutes after it’s eaten.
Protect Your Heart: Capsaicin may help to protect the heart by reducing cholesterol, triglycerides, and platelet aggregation. It may also help the body dissolve fibrin, which is necessary for blood clots to form. Further, cultures around the world that use hot peppers liberally in their meals have significantly lower rates of heart attack and stroke than cultures that do not.
CHILI PEPPER WARNING
A note of warning when you start, do not start using a chili pepper with a high Scoville Unit. The Scoville scale is a measure of the ‘hotness’ of chili pepper or anything derived from chili peppers, i.e. hot sauce. The scale is actually a measure of the concentration of the chemical compound capsaicin which is the active component that produces the heat sensation for humans.
I made the mistake of buying a chili powder rated at 9 million Scoville Units. As a result, my mouth was on fire, I broke out in a cold sweat, and my face became flushed. So it is recommended you start off low and as your body gets used to it you can increase.
If you consume a high dose of hot pepper and it causes discomfort, eat something absorbent, such as bread. Your first instinct will be to gulp water, but this will only spread the capsaicin throughout your mouth and hasten its way to your stomach. Once you’ve eaten it, there’s little else you can do to mitigate the side effects until it passes your system. If you get it on your skin, remove it with water or vinegar.
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