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November 16, 2012

Capsaicin for Controlling Hypertension: Can Peppers Lower Your BP?

If you're a fan of red hot chili peppers (the vegetables, not the band), then it may cheer you to learn that some researchers now believe we can use something called capsaicin for controlling hypertension -- adding to a growing list of natural medicines that may help offset high blood pressure and its effects.

You see, capsaicin derives from hot peppers. It's a crystalline compound not only responsible for their pungency, but also for their spicy heat, and the pain that results when the juice hits your skin or mucous membranes.

Quite unknowingly, those of us addicted to Tabasco may have been lowering our BPs a bit all these years.

How Does That Work?

Like many plant-based high blood pressure treatments, capsaicin lowers blood pressure through a stimulated biochemical reaction. In mice, at least, it triggers the release of calcium in certain internal body cells, by tripping what scientists call the TRPV1 receptor.

That calcium is accompanied by an increase of nitric oxide in the bloodstream. Working together, the two substances cause blood vessels to relax, naturally causing a decrease in blood pressure. Within five months, average BP in the test subjects had dropped by 8% -- as much as 15 mm of mercury.

Cautious Optimism

The lab study cited above took place in 2010 at the Third Military University in Chongqing, China. While some may look askance at the source, the study appears to have been scientifically rigorous and carefully conducted, and the medical community has accepted it as such.

But don't jump for joy just yet. While mice do represent reasonable stand-ins for humans in medical experimentation (rodents and primates are more closely related than you might think, biologist say), mice are NOT humans, and it may be that capsaicin won't work the wonders for us that it does for them.

We'll need to run extensive human trials on this hot pepper extract before we can be reasonably certain that it works for people, too.

Even So...

That said, the results from TMU do suggest that we may soon have another weapon to use against high blood pressure and related cardiovascular problems in the near future. It's not a cure-all or a wonder drug, but the results of the study are promising.

There's no word yet on whether capsaicin's effects might be cumulative when combined with other treatments, whether medicinal, herbal, or behavioral based.

However, even if they're not, capsaicin may be sufficient for those of us with systolic BP averages just slightly above the danger mark of 140 mm, or those whose readings tend to straddle the 140 mm level. In such cases, the use of capsaicin for controlling hypertension may be just what the doctor ordered.

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