Can Eating Cayenne Pepper Help Unclog Arteries?

Cayenne pepper contains a number of compounds, including capsaicin. The presence of capsaicin accounts for the spiciness or burning of cayenne pepper on the palette, since the compound interacts with nerve cells responsible for sensing heat. In addition to its spicy properties, capsaicin can also benefit your health. While there's no proof that capsaicin can cure clogged arteries or heal diseases of the cardiovascular system, the capsaicin in cayenne pepper might benefit clogged arteries or help prevent them.

Dried cayenne peppers and seeds in bulk at a spice market. (Image: len4foto/iStock/Getty Images)

Atherosclerosis

Clogged arteries, or atherosclerosis, involve the formation of fatty deposits within your arteries. Your blood contains a number of lipids, or fats: triglycerides, used to store energy; LDL, or harmful cholesterol; HDL, or beneficial cholesterol. High levels of triglycerides or LDL cholesterol can form deposits, called plaques, on your arterial walls. Over time, these plaques grow and become calcified, thickening and hardening the artery wall and obstructing blood flow. Atherosclerosis can increase the risk of a blood clot, disrupt flow of blood to your heart, or lead to stroke.

Capsaicin and Inflammation

The capsaicin found in cayenne pepper might help to prevent or reduce the effects of atherosclerosis by regulating inflammation. Chronic inflammation initiates and drives the progression of atherosclerosis, encouraging fatty tissue deposits within your arteries and contributing to cardiovascular symptoms. A study published in "FEBS Letters," a biochemistry journal, in 2008 indicates that capsaicin can help suppress excessive immune responses in mice, indicating that it might inhibit atherosclerosis. Although it is not yet known whether capsaicin has a similar effect in humans, consuming cayenne pepper might prove beneficial in regulating atherosclerosis-associated inflammation.

Capsaicin and Cholesterol

Capsaicin might also benefit individuals with atherosclerosis by helping to control their blood cholesterol levels. High levels of certain types of cholesterol in your bloodstream can increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis, leading to the formation of fatty deposits. A study published in "Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology" in 2007 indicates that capsaicin can reduce the levels of blood cholesterol in laboratory rats. While it is not yet known whether capsaicin has a similar effect on blood cholesterol in humans, it's potential ability to lower blood cholesterol might prove beneficial in preventing or controlling atherosclerosis.

Considerations

Preliminary animal research suggests that capsaicin, a component of cayenne pepper, might help to treat or prevent clogged arteries. If capsaicin can effectively lower harmful LDL cholesterol in humans, it might unclog arteries, since significantly lowering cholesterol levels may reverse atherosclerosis in some cases, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, the extent to which cayenne pepper can affect clogged arteries is not yet understood. If you're concerned about your risk of atherosclerosis, talk to your doctor about a diet to help reduce the formation of plaques within your blood vessels.

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