Heart disease is the leading cause of death in North America and more than one in four deaths are caused by heart disease. Treating heart disease is extremely expensive, and Americans spend more than 96 billion dollars per year on conventional methods of heart disease treatment and cardiac care. Natural methods of healthcare are generally much more affordable, safer and less intrusive than conventional disease care methods, making them a significantly more appealing option. According to a recent study led by Zhen-Yu Chen, Ph.D., and presented in San Diego at the 243rd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), 2012, hot peppers may be the natural heart health elixir that North American so desperately need.
Hot peppers such as habaneros, cayennes and jalapenos contain a variety of capsaicinoids, which are the compounds that give them their characteristic heat. One of the capsaicinoids – capsaicin, is already highly revered in holistic medicine and used to help boost the metabolism and promote weight loss, manage psoriasis, reduce pain, cure shingles and ease digestive disorders. In addition, both holistic and conventional medical practitioners sanction the topical use of capsaicin containing creams, for the relief of pains such as arthritis.
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The hot peppers/heart health study, which was presented at ACS, involved feeding hamsters high cholesterol diets. The hamsters were divided into two separate groups; one of which was fed capsaicinoids and the other of which was not. At the end of the study, Chen and his associates found that the capsaicinoids found in hot peppers help to promote a healthy heart and they reduce heart disease risk in two very important ways.
The first way in which the capsaicinoids help to improve heart health and reduce heart disease risk is by reducing total cholesterol levels – an important marker in heart disease risk. More importantly however, the capsaicinoids lower the unhealthy low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, whilst leaving the healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels untouched. This is significant because it creates a healthier LDL/HDL ratio, which is a substantial gauge of overall heart health. The scientists from this study believe that capsaicinoids also reduce the amount of existing cholesterol deposits in clogged arteries and increase the secretion of cholesterol in the feces; thereby helping to reverse narrowed arteries. This hypothesis is very exciting because narrowed arteries as a result of cholesterol build-up, is a huge risk factor for strokes and heart attacks.
In addition to reducing cholesterol levels and reversing cholesterol build-up, the study found that capsaicinoids block the action of the enzyme–cyclooxygenase-2. This is important because cyclooxygenase-2 causes the blood vessel muscles to restrict and contract and this reduces blood flow to the heart and the rest of the body. The reduced blood flow forces your heart to pump harder, which ultimately leads to increased blood pressure. By blocking cyclooxygenase-2, hot peppers are able to lower high blood pressure, which is another substantial contributor to heart disease.
This is not the first study to find that hot peppers work as a natural form of cardiac care by promoting heart health and reducing heart disease risk. Past research has also suggested that hot peppers help to lower both high blood pressure and high cholesterol; as well as to reduce the risk for blood clots. “Our research has reinforced and expanded knowledge about how these substances in chilies work in improving heart health,” states Chen. Hopefully, this enhanced knowledge and understanding, will eventually lead to a more affordable, natural and effective way of reducing heart disease risk. The results, while preliminary, are still impressive.