Are Hot Peppers Good for You?

If you like to put hot spices or hot sauce on your food, you may be doing yourself a favor. Capsaicin, the alkaloid responsible for the spicy flavor in hot peppers, may offer benefits in the treatment of some diseases, according to an article published in 2011 in the journal "Molecules." Peppers that contain capsaicin include jalapenos, habaneros, cayenne, serrano, cherry peppers and even bell peppers. Eating peppers in the capsaicin family can benefit you because they play a role in digestive health, cardiovascular health and in long-term cancer prevention.

A green hot pepper in a wooden bowl. (Image: artpritsadee/iStock/Getty Images)

They Increase Circulation

When you eat hot peppers, the capsaicin in the peppers stimulates your nerves in a way that favors increased blood flow. This effect was tested on rats in a 1993 study published in the "American Journal of Physiology." Researchers increased the blood pressure in the veins of rats, inducing hypertension. One group of rats was injected with capsaicin and another group was given a placebo. A control group was administered nothing at all. When all the rats were tested for their cardiovascular health, the capsaicin rats' blood circulated similarly to the control group, whereas the placebo group had constricted blood flow. This shows that hot peppers increase circulation and might benefit people with high blood pressure.

They Lower Cholesterol

Another way hot peppers can improve your heart and circulatory health is by regulating cholesterol levels. In a 2013 study published in the "European Journal of Nutrition," capsaicin was found to reduce cholesterol and improve the lipoprotein profile in hamsters that were fed a high-cholesterol diet. It was found that capsaicin had the effect of decreasing cholesterol absorption, allowing excess cholesterol to be eliminated from the body. This suggests hot peppers may play a role in helping you keep your cholesterol levels in a healthy range.

They Improve Digestion

In traditional medicine, hot spices have been used as digestive stimulants and to cure digestive ailments. A 2010 study published in the journal "Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism" looked at the effect of capsaicin on the activities of antioxidant enzymes in the stomach and intestines. Researchers found that it improved the functioning of all these antioxidant enzymes, showing capsaicin can protect the stomach and intestines while favoring digestion.

They May Help Prevent Cancer

Studies have also shown that capsaicin plays a role in cancer prevention. Researchers have demonstrated capsaicin hinders the growth of prostate tumors, meaning that spicing your food could prevent the onset of prostate cancer. In a 1997 study reported in "Anticancer Research," scientists introduced tobacco to hamsters to induce cancerous lung tumors. They gave one group capsaicin and the other group a placebo. The capsaicin group experienced less tumor growth in the lungs than the placebo group, suggesting that hot peppers may also help prevent lung cancer in those who smoke or live in polluted areas.

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