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Those Amazing Hot Peppers: Good for Your Heart?

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hot-peppers-may-be-good-for-your-heart iStockphoto/Thinkstock

When it comes to hot, spicy, pepper-filled food, one only has to look to the border states to discover culinary delights that are sure to tempt the taste buds of pepper lovers.

Let’s face it. Whether it’s jalapenos, habaneros, chili peppers, or cayenne, here in the border states we love our peppers!

We grow hot peppers in our gardens, eat off red-pepper plates, decorate kitchens with jalapenos, and wear pepper-inspired jewelry and clothing. From contests to determine which pepper is the hottest to who can eat the most, we know -- and love -- our peppers!

Pepper lovers attribute hot peppers with almost mystical healing powers including the power to lower high blood pressure, relieve migraine and sinus headaches, relieve congestion, prevent sinusitis, lower inflammation, cure inflammatory bowel disease, prevent stomach ulcers, and increase metabolism enabling you to burn fat and easily lose weight.

Do you have cold feet? No worries! Peppers will warm them right up.

Low in Vitamin C? Forget orange juice. Simply eat peppers to get your daily dose of C.

A noted pain reliever, capsaicin, the active ingredient that gives hot peppers their familiar burn is used in topical creams to treat conditions such as arthritis. Not even cancer is safe from peppers with some believing that peppers can cure, or at least inhibit, some cancers. Is there anything a hot pepper can't do?

In a move that’s certain to put an I-told-you-so-smile on the face of pepper lovers, researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong have reported that chili peppers are a heart-healthy food which can lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots from forming, and help protect against heart disease.

According to lead study author Zhen-Yu Chen, PhD, the heart-protective benefits are found in the same substance that give peppers their decidedly I’m-too-hot-for-your-mouth burn -- capsaicin or capsaicinoids.

According to study findings, capsaicin helps protect your heart in two primary ways.

First, capsaicin is believed to reduce cholesterol levels causing it to break down and pass from the body naturally. Cholesterol levels are lowered to healthy levels as a result.

Secondly, capsaicin works to block a gene that causes arteries to contract which restricts blood flow. Because capsaicin blocks this gene, blood is circulated more easily.

Researchers found that capsaicin reduced bad or LDL cholesterol levels and reduced the size of deposits in arteries that can lead to blockages. Capsaicin did not affect levels of good or HDL cholesterol in hamsters used for the study.

Researchers advise caution before you start piling on the peppers indicating that while tasty and flavorful, consuming peppers doesn’t replaced established medications for treating heart-related disease and that any diet must be about balance.

It should be noted that findings were based on animal and not human studies -- a minor detail for the pepper lovers among us, but one worth mentioning. Missing from the equation is how many peppers you would need to consume on a regular basis to be beneficial enough to provide those heart-protective benefits.

While more research is needed to conclusively prove whether or not peppers are the new cure for heart disease, the pepper lovers among us will simply smile and add an extra serving of hot peppers to the evening meal.

Findings were presented at the 243rd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society held during the week of March 26, 2012.


American Chemical Society (ACS) (2012, March 27). Hot pepper compound could help hearts. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 3, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120327215605.htm

The Health Benefits of Chili Peppers. Chilipeppermadness.com. 2012. http://www.chilipeppermadness.com/chili-pepper-health-benefits-heart.html

The Health Benefits of Chili Peppers – Especially Jalapeno Peppers! Jalapeno Madness. 2012.

Jaimie Dalessio. Hot Peppers Can Help Your Heart. Every Day Health. 28 Mar 2012. Everyday health .com http://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/0328/hot-peppers-can-help-your-heart.aspx

Reviewed April 4, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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