April 3, 2012
Hot for Heart Disease
(Ivanhoe Newswire) — Many people are wary of hot peppers but scientists have discovered that chili peppers are a heart-healthy food with potential to protect against the No. 1 cause of death in the developed world.
The study focused on capsaicin and its fiery-hot relatives, a piquant family of substances termed "capsaicinoids." The stuff that gives cayennes, jalapenos, habaneros and other chili peppers their heat, capsaicin already has an established role in medicine in rub-on-the-skin creams to treat arthritis and certain forms of pain. Past research suggested that spicing food with chilies can lower blood pressure in people with that condition, reduce blood cholesterol and ease the tendency for dangerous blood clots to form.
The team found, for instance, that capsaicin and a close chemical relative boost heart health in two ways. They lower cholesterol levels by reducing accumulation of cholesterol in the body and increasing its breakdown and excretion in the feces. They also block action of a gene that makes arteries contract, restricting the flow of blood to the heart and other organs. The blocking action allows more blood to flow through blood vessels.
In addition to reducing total cholesterol levels in the blood, capsaicinoids reduced levels of the so-called "bad" cholesterol (which deposits into blood vessels), but did not affect levels of so-called "good" cholesterol. The team found indications that capsaicinoids may reduce the size of deposits that already have formed in blood vessels, narrowing arteries in ways that can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
Capsaicinoids also blocked the activity of a gene that produces cyclooxygenase-2, a substance that makes the muscles around blood vessels constrict. By blocking it, muscles can relax and widen, allowing more blood to flow.
"We concluded that capsaicinoids were beneficial in improving a range of factors related to heart and blood vessel health," Dr. Chen was quoted saying. "But 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. They may be a nice supplement, however, for people who find the hot flavor pleasant."
SOURCE: American Chemical Society, March, 2012