Hot Peppers May Help Your Heart
Chile peppers like cayenne, jalapeño, and habanero contain capsaicin and could help protect you from heart disease.
By Jaimie Dalessio Clayton
Medically Reviewed by Michael Cutler, DO, PhD
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Whether you love hot peppers or can’t take the heat, here’s some interesting intel about the fiery fruit: They may help protect your heart from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
“Overall, diets or eating patterns that are rich in plant-based foods, including the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, have been shown to lower risk of heart disease and high blood pressure," says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian in preventive cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. "I would therefore recommend choosing hot peppers, but there's no recommended quantity. Choose a variety of different types and colors to maximize intake of phytonutrients.”
The health benefit comes from capsaicin (pronounced kap-SAY-sin), the same compound that makes chile peppers like cayennes, jalapeños, and habaneros so hot. Capsaicin also has a reputation for relieving certain kinds of pain, and is a widely used ingredient in over-the-counter topical creams and ointments for arthritis.
On the heart-health front, previous studies have suggested chiles can help reduce blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the formation of blood clots. Recent research adds more evidence to their positive effects.
In a study published in August 2014 in theJournal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that capsaicin lowers blood cholesterol levels and blocks a gene that makes arteries contract, which can lead to dangerous blockages of blood flow. Such blockages can cause heart attacks (when blood can’t reach the heart) or strokes (when blood can’t reach the brain).
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For the study, the team of researchers fed hamsters high-cholesterol diets. Then they added foods with capsaicinoids, the broader family of substances of which capsaicin is part, to one group's diet. They found the spicy addition to the diet went along with lower cholesterol levels, less atherosclerotic plaque, and more-relaxed arteries.
Does this mean you should start scarfing down hot peppers? Hardly. But if you can stand the spiciness, adding these types of peppers to balanced meals might give your heart-health plan a boost.
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