People who love a spicy curry could be eating their way to a healthy heart, researchers have discovered.
Scientists from the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that the compounds that give cayennes, jalapenos, habaneros and other chilli peppers their fiery heat help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
The study also discovered that the piquant family of spices, called capsaicinoids, also lowers the risk of blood clots.
Researchers investigated the role of spices and the reduced risk of heart disease on laboratory hamsters, who were fed high-cholesterol diets before being split into two groups.
Only one group were given foods supplemented with capsaicinoids and scientists analysed the effects they had on the hamsters' heart health.
They discovered that the spicy compounds lowered the levels of cholesterol in hamsters by decreasing the accumulation of cholesterol by increasing the breakdown of the ‘bad fats’.
The capsaicinoids blocked the cyclooxygenase-2 gene that makes arteries contract (which restricts the blood flow through the heart).
Researchers also noted that capsaicinoids may also reduce the size of fatty deposits already in the blood vessels, which narrow arteries in a way that could lead to heart attacks or strokes.
“We concluded that capsaicinoids were beneficial in improving a range of factors related to heart and blood vessel health,” explains lead author, professor Zhen-Yu Chen, reports Science Daily.
"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."
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