According to emerging scientific research, capsaicin – the ingredient that gives heat to cayenne peppers – may have the ability to minimize the damage caused by heart attacks and strokes. The promising study results have reinforced the longstanding conviction of some natural healers that cayenne pepper, scientifically known as Capsicum anuum, is a “miracle” remedy that can stop heart attacks.
However, the real story may be somewhat more complicated. Never jump to conclusions – especially when dealing with serious health conditions.
What (exactly) does the research reveal about capsaicin
In a study published in the September 2009 issue of Circulation, Dr. Keith Jones, a researcher at the University of Cincinnati, found that capsaicin applied to the skin of mice activated protective “pro-survival” pathways in the heart. Even more promisingly, capsaicin caused an 85 percent reduction in the death of heart cells, leading Jones to term it a form of “remote cardioprotection.”
Predicting that capsaicin will “eventually” save many lives, Jones cautions that clinical trials must be conducted in order to determine proper dosage and application. The researcher is currently working with Neal Weintraub, M.D., a cardiologist at U.C. Davis, to construct a plan that would test capsaicin on humans.
Tell me: Can cayenne pepper halt a heart attack in progress?
Many noted herbalists – particularly the late Dr. John Christopher, who claimed to have stopped heart attacks “in their tracks” with cayenne pepper — insist that it can, and anecdotal accounts of the life-saving effects of cayenne abound on the internet.
On the other hand, conventionally-trained physicians scoff at this assertion, and warn that there is not enough evidence to justify cayenne’s use as an emergency treatment. Many also point to the dangers of administering cayenne to a patient suffering from a heart attack or stroke.
Experts say its use could lead to uncontrolled bleeding if the person is on a blood thinner, such as coumadin. In addition, the pain of ingesting an unaccustomed dose of hot pepper could cause adrenaline to be released, increasing heart rate while reducing blood flow to heart and brain and causing increased death of tissues.
Reperfusion injuries – damage to tissues from the sudden return of blood and oxygen – could also occur. And some websites actually encourage the administration of liquid cayenne extracts to heart attack victims who have lost consciousness – an appallingly dangerous action.
Although cell and animal studies have been encouraging, it’s worth noting: Dr. Kevin Jones, the very scientist behind the capsaicin research, advises against applying capsaicin cream to the skin of someone who is having a heart attack.
It can’t be overstated: if you think you are having a heart attack, call 911 and summon immediate medical assistance. If you would like to use cayenne pepper to ward off heart attacks, discuss this with a trusted doctor.
Can cayenne pepper help prevent heart attacks?
The answer is probably yes – many researchers and experts believe that the use of cayenne pepper in Mexican, Italian and Asian cuisines contributes to these regions’ lowered rates of heart disease.
Like an assortment of other antioxidant-laden, carotenoid-rich natural fruit, vegetables and spices, cayenne pepper has impressive abilities to help lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. It also discourages platelet adhesion – the clumping together of platelets that causes blood clots and triggers strokes – and increases coronary vasodilation. In addition, its lignan glycosides give it strong antioxidant potential, helping to reduce damage from free radicals.
What else can capsaicin do for me?
Capsaicin-rich peppers have a long history of use in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and modern-day healers often advise capsaicin for digestive and circulatory problems. The use of capsaicin can reduce body levels of substance P, a chemical messenger that carries the sensation of pain, and many patients report relief from using topical capsaicin cream for arthritis, joint pain, lower back pain and shingles.
Even Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSCC) reports that capsaicin may protect against breast, bladder, prostate and oral cancers, and notes that it slows the growth of cancer cells in animal studies.
How do I use cayenne peppers (safely)?
Cayenne peppers may be eaten raw or cooked; many people enjoy this spicy vegetable in a stir fry of tomatoes, green beans and garlic. Choose fresh, raw, whole, organic peppers that are bright red and intact, with no abrasions, cuts or mold. Peppers must be washed well, but avoid touching your eyes after handling them.
If you are sensitive to their irritating qualities, wear gloves.
Overindulging in eating cayenne pepper can cause stomach pain. As with any food, allergic reactions are possible; so talk to a holistically-minded physician if you’re unsure. And remember, as beneficial as cayenne pepper is for your heart, it does not replace medical care in the event of a heart attack.