Cayenne pepper is red hot and spicy thanks to its high level of capsaicin, an alkaloid that stimulates nerve endings to produce sensations of heat. This ability to stimulate nerve receptors gives it other health benefits too, including lowering blood pressure, thinning the blood to reduce unwanted blood clots, stimulating fat burning to reduce obesity, as well as improving cholesterol balance and glucose control.
These benefits add up to a significant health advantage. A recent study involving 16,179 people whose were followed for around 19 years found those who at the most hot red chili peppers were 13% less likely to die from any medical cause than those who ate the least, after taking other lifestyle and dietary factors into account.
Cayenne chilli pepper lowers blood pressure
Capsaicin is the main alkaloid found in cayenne pepper, and this interacts with a special cell receptor with the rather clumsy name of ‘transient receptor potential vanilloid subtype 1’ which, not surprisingly, is usually abbreviated to TRPV1.
This capsaicin receptor is not just found in the mouth, where chilli peppers trigger their unique hot taste, but is present throughout the body, including the lining of blood vessels, kidneys and brain. When you eat hot chilli peppers, at least 80% of their capsaicin content is absorbed into the circulation where it interacts with these receptors to stimulate the production of nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide has a powerful dilating effect on constricted blood vessels, causing them to relax so your blood pressure falls.
New research suggests activation of TRPV1 by capsaicin also lowers blood pressure through several other actions, including the release of a small protein (calcitonin gene-related peptide) from capsaicin-sensitive nerves. This protein helps to normalise abnormalities in calcium regulation that are one of the underlying causes of hypertension.
Another finding is that capsaicin interacts with TRPV1 receptors in the kidneys, to increase excretion of sodium salt and water, to prevent a salt-induced increase in blood pressure. That isn’t an excuse to eat more salt, however! In fact, the latest finding is that capsaicin activation of TRPV1 actually leads to an aversion to salt, leading to lower salt intake. This was originally shown in rats, but has now been confirmed in humans. A study published in the journal, Hypertension, concluded that the enjoyment of spicy flavours enhances salt sensitivity and reduces salt preference. As a result, people with a high spice preference had a lower salt intake and a lower blood pressure than those who disliked spicy food. It seems that capsaicin interacts with TRPV1 receptors in parts of the brain (the insula and orbitofrontal cortex) to enhance the perception of salty tastes and reduce salt preference and cravings. The researchers concluded that eating more spicy flavours, such as cayenne pepper, is a promising way to reduce a high salt intake and blood pressure.
Don’t overdo the chilli heat
Capsaicin and related capsaicinoids are concentrated in the white tissue that supports chilli seeds within the fruit. Some peppers have significantly higher capsaicin content than others, to provide a fiery heat that can even cause chemical burns in the mouth.
Cayenne peppers are the best way to get your culinary heat, as they are hot enough to have a physiological effect, without being so hot they cause distress. Too much capsaicin can lead to the opposite effect you are seeking and actually increase blood pressure. The stress of eating too much capsaicin has even triggered an arterial hypertensive crisis (very high blood pressure) in a 19-year old Italian man who over-indulged in very hot chilli peppers the day before.
The level of capsaicin in chilli (chili or chile) peppers was originally measured according to the Scoville Scale, and was based on the number of times the raw juice must be diluted before testers could no longer detect any heat.
On the Scoville scale, sweet bell peppers have a rating of Zero (no capsaicin) while the Carolina Reaper Pepper has a rating of two million or more, which means its raw juice must be diluted more than two million times before its capsaicin becomes undetectable. This concentration of capsaicin is dangerously hot – hence its Grim Reaper name.
Modern laboratory methods can accurately determine the capsaicinoid concentration of capsaicin in peppers without relying on the capsaicin sensitivity of testers’ tongues. The Scoville rating remains a great way to compare the relative heat of different chilli peppers however, in which Cayenne pepper has a respectable rating that averages around 40,000. in comparison, pure capsaicin would have a Scoville rating of over 15 million!
Remember, you want a respectable but enjoyable level of heat to help lower your blood pressure naturally.
Type of pepper
|Carolina Reaper Pepper||1,400,000 – 2,200,000|
|Trinidad Moruga Scorpion||500,000 – 2,000,000|
|Habanero||350,000 – 577,000|
|Scotch Bonnet||100,000 – 350,000|
|Jamaican Hot Pepper||100,000 – 200,000|
|Thai Pepper||50,000 – 100,000|
|Cayenne Pepper, Tabasco Pepper||30,000–50,000|
|Serrano Pepper||10,000 – 23,000|
|Tabasco Sauce||7,000 – 8,000|
|Jalapeno Pepper||2,500 – 8,000|
|Anaheim Pepper||500 – 1000|
|Pimento; Pepperoncini||100 – 500|
|Sweet Bell Pepper||0|
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