chili peppers

  1. Chili pepper compound capsaicin can lower cholesterol

    Chili pepper spice can boost heart health

    Here's some good news for all you lovers of spicy foods: A key compound found in chili peppers can help protect your heart.

    That compound is capsaicin, part of a family of compounds called capsaicinoids, and it's long been recognized for its heart-friendly benefits (along with another I'll tell you about in a moment). And now, a new study finds it can slash levels of LDL cholesterol and improve overall arterial health.

    Researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong gave two sets of hamsters a high-fat diet with one difference: One set of hamsters got plenty of capsaicinoids in their diet, while the other got none.

    Those that got all those spicy capsaicinoids had lower levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. More importantly, the capsaicin also blocked the gene that causes arteries to contract -- allowing blood to flow more freely to the heart.

    It's a small study on hamsters, but it's not the first to find capsaicin can protect the heart. Other studies have shown that this spicy compound can help slash your triglycerides, thin your blood and reduce the damage of oxidation in your arteries.

    The only "catch" here is that capsaicin is the same compound that gives peppers their heat. Habanero peppers and Scotch bonnets, for example, have the most -- and not everyone can handle those.

    If you can't take the heat yourself, you can get capsaicin in capsule form.

    Capsaicin is also a key ingredient in some very effective pain-relief balms for people suffering from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, shingles, diabetic neuropathy, and more.

    And for pain relief, you'll want a topical balm rather than capsules or Scotch bonnets.

    You'll actually feel the heat when you rub it in -- it might even hurt a little at first. And whatever you do, don't touch your eyes or any other sensitive spots after handling it, or you'll be in for the sting of your life.

    One important safety note: Don't take capsaicin in any form if you're on blood-thinning medication.

  2. Chilis for chubbies

    If you're overweight and plan to stay that way, then I hope you like your food hot – real hot.

    Researchers have found that the compound that gives chili peppers their kick might also help prevent diabetes in obese people, according to a study published in Obesity.

    The South Korean study found that the fiery compound – called capsaicin – lowered blood sugar insulin and leptin levels and reduced inflammation in overweight mice on a high-fat diet. In plain talk, that means the chubby rodents were less likely to get diabetes or diabetes-like conditions when fed high levels of capsaicin.

    The researchers are eager to see if they get the same response from obese humans fed the pepper-based supplement. And you can bet that Big Pharma is keeping a close eye on this one – hoping they can turn hot peppers into a hot new product.

    Chili lovers will tell you that the Scoville scale, which measures hotness in a pepper, is based entirely on capsaicin content. The more capsaicin, the hotter the pepper. So if this research holds, you'll need the hottest of chilis to get the best benefit.

    In case you can't tell, I like chili peppers as much as anyone, maybe more. They add a tasty kick to most foods, and they do have plenty of great health benefits like fighting pain and inflammation.

    Some of them can clear your sinuses pretty quick, too.

    But you don't need to start entering pepper-eating contests to get a handle on your obesity and lower your risk for diabetes. And you don't need to wait for some big company to develop a chili pepper supplement.

    You just need to get a grip on your eating habits – whether you like the spice or not.

    Most of us aren't doing a very good job of that so far. As a nation, we're getting fatter and more diabetic every day, and I doubt some extra spice will do much to change it.

    The reality is your weight plays a huge role (pardon the pun) in whether or not you get diabetes. The best way to lower your risk is to lose that weight, period. You can do that easily by skipping the sugar and bad carbs and getting around 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise four or five times a week.

    It's really not a lot of work – but it is a commitment.

    And it's a whole lot easier than eating hot peppers with every meal – no matter how much you love your chilis.

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