San Diego, CA—Lovers of spicy jalapenos, habaneros and other chili peppers are in luck because a recent study found that they are heart-healthy foods. This report was part of the 243rd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

The focus was on capsaicin and capsaicinoids from peppers, which are common in joint- and pain-support creams. Now, Zhen-Yu Chen, Ph.D., and his team from the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that capsaicin and a chemical relative improve heart health in two different ways. First, they lower cholesterol levels by reducing cholesterol accumulation, followed by an increase in its breakdown and excretion. Second, they block the action of a gene that causes arteries to contract, which restricts blood flow to the heart.

Chen’s team gave hamsters a high-cholesterol diet and divided them into groups, some receiving just food while others also received capsaicinoids. Overall, capsaicinoids reduced total cholesterol blood levels, lessened LDL cholesterol and kept HDL cholesterol the same. They found that capsaicinoids may reduce the size of deposits that have already formed in blood vessels, which can lead to heart
attack or stroke.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, June 2012