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Chilis Cut Cholesterol

Bring it ON!!! Chili peppers, we love them already, but it turns out that they're good for us too.

Well, we knew they had to be. Apart from being the best way to clear up a blocked nose (eating them, not inserting), the hot compound capsaicin, found in chili pepers, is now described by the American Chemical Society as being 'beneficial in improving a range of factors related to heart and blood vessel health'.

Which has to be more inviting than chugging capsules of Warfarin – the blood-thinning agent most often prescribed for high-cholesterol issues, and which is also best-known as a very effective rat poison. Makes chili-related, ahem, heartburn, seem all the more benign, doesn't it?

The study focused on capsaicin and its fiery-hot relatives, a piquant family of substances termed "capsaicinoids." The stuff that gives cayennes, jalapenos, habaneros and other chili peppers their heat, capsaicin already has an established role in medicine in rub-on-the-skin creams to treat arthritis and certain forms of pain. Past research suggested that spicing food with chilies can lower blood pressure in people with that condition, reduce blood cholesterol and ease the tendency for dangerous blood clots to form.

"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."

The team found, for instance, that capsaicin and a close chemical relative boost heart health in two ways. They lower cholesterol levels by reducing accumulation of cholesterol in the body and increasing its breakdown and excretion in the feces. They also block action of a gene that makes arteries contract, restricting the flow of blood to the heart and other organs. The blocking action allows more blood to flow through blood vessels.

"We concluded that capsaicinoids were beneficial in improving a range of factors related to heart and blood vessel health," said Chen, a professor of food and nutritional science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "But we certainly do not recommend that people start consuming chilies to an excess. A good diet is a matter of balance. And remember, chilies are no substitute for the prescription medications proven to be beneficial. They may be a nice supplement, however, for people who find the hot flavor pleasant."

Source: American Chemical Society
Image: Grant Cochrane

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