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Aug 20, 2012 by MARCO TORRES
Hot Chili Peppers: A Fiery Food For That's Even Good For Your Heart

Is there anything chili peppers are not good for?
Capsaicin in red chilis have been found to demonstrate a wide range of benefits for the human body including metabolism, weight loss, cancer, and even sore throats. Some people may even gravitate towards hot, spicy foods for a reason...their health. More research is finding that chili pepper compounds have a much healthier effect on cardiovascular systems than previously thought.

Scientists have recently reported that chili peppers are a heart-healthy food with potential to protect against the No. 1 cause of death in the developed world.

"Our research has reinforced and expanded knowledge about how these substances in chilies work in improving heart health," said Zhen-Yu Chen, Ph.D., 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."

Dr. Chen, a professor of food and nutritional science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, wanted to see whether capsaicinoids--pungent compounds found in chile peppers--might boost cardiovascular health, so he tested his theory on hamsters.

Dr. Chen and his team put hamsters (that all had similar cholesterol levels) into five groups. They were all fed a high cholesterol diet, but four of the groups were fed varying amounts of powdered capsaicinoids and the fifth group consumed no capsaicinoids. After six weeks, researchers discovered...

Total cholesterol in all of the hamsters went up--but hamsters in the control group that didn’t eat capsaicinoids had their total cholesterol rise three times as high (about 28%) as those in each of the other groups (which rose just 10% to 12%).

Hamsters in the control group that didn’t eat capsaicinoids also had aortic arteries that were more rigid and less relaxed, compared with the capsaicinoid groups.

"We concluded that capsaicinoids were beneficial in improving a range of factors related to heart and blood vessel health," said Chen. "But we certainly do not recommend that people start consuming chilies to an excess. A good diet is a matter of balance.

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.

Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.

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