Good new for curry fans – tucking into a spicy dish could be the key to a healthy heart.
Researchers found that the compounds that give cayennes, jalapenos and other chilli peppers their heat can lower high blood pressure and reduce blood cholesterol.
They said the chillies have great potential in protecting against heart disease, which is the number one cause of death in the developed world.
The study, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, focused on a family of substances known as ‘capsaicinoids’ – the part of the chilli that gives them their ‘kick.’
Study author Dr Zhen-Yu Chen said: ‘Our research has reinforced and expanded knowledge about how these substances in chilies work in improving heart health.
‘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.’
In the study they gave two groups of hamsters high-cholesterol diets, before giving one group food with varying amounts of capsaicinoids while giving the other control group food with no capsaicinoids. The scientists then analysed the effects.
They found the spicy substances lowered levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol by reducing accumulation of cholesterol in the body and increasing its breakdown and excretion.
They also blocked the action of a gene that makes arteries contract, restricting the flow of blood to the heart and other organs. By blocking it, the muscles relaxed and widened allowing more blood to flow.
‘We concluded that capsaicinoids were beneficial in improving a range of factors related to heart and blood vessel health,’ said Dr Chen.
‘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 flavour pleasant.’