Capsaicin, the compound that adds the spicy zing to hot peppers, seems to have some benefit in blood pressure control. Chinese researchers have reported that long term consumption of capsaicin as part of the normal diet of rats bred to have high blood pressure helps relax blood vessels so that pressure falls. The capsaicin sets off a process that increases production of nitric oxide, a molecule known to protect blood vessels against inflammation and dysfunction. Earlier studies showed that short-term exposure to capsaicin produced conflicting results in the hypertensive rats; this is the first one to look at the effects of treatment long term. Although follow up studies will be needed to see whether capsaicin works as well in humans, the author of the study noted that in southwestern China where hot and spicy food is widely consumed, the incidence of high blood pressure is significantly lower than it is elsewhere in China. The study was published in the August issue of Cell Metabolism.
How about celebrating the end of summer with some healthy chili and cornbread? Both spicy recipes contain capsaicin, which, in addition to possibly regulating blood pressure, is a known anti-inflammatory agent. Keep a glass of water nearby!