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Capsaicin: How spicy food can improve your health.
It could be the instant sweat, the burning sensation, the way it accentuates flavors of certain foods, or a combination of all three. Spicy foods get their "heat" from a compound called capsaicin. Capsaicin can be found in some form in any food or vegetable with noticeable "heat." New research into capsaicin's effects on humans has uncovered many health benefits to enjoying spicy foods. Adding some spice to your favorite foods may not only make them taste better, but may also make you healthier.
Hotter is better
Although the chemical compound capsaicin itself is colorless and odorless, it is generally associated with hot peppers. Hot peppers like the ghost pepper and the superhot chili peppers available at www.firehousechilli.com contain some of the highest amounts of capsaicin found naturally. The amount of capsaicin in a pepper is measured using the Scoville index, where pure capsaicin is rated at 16,000,000. The hottest peppers in the world only measure up to 1.5-1.6 million Scovilles. Jalapenos and cayenne pepper come in at around 8,000 and 50,000, respectively. For beginners to spicy food, start small and add more heat as tolerance increases, you can always add more, and you don't want to ruin a meal with too much.
Capsaicin's chemical structure causes the excitation of pain-sensitive nerve endings, which is why pain or burning is felt when it is ingested or rubbed on the skin. Although no actual burn is taking place, the excited neurons release a neurotransmitter called Substance P that transmits the feeling of pain to the brain. This principle of capsaicin has shown its worth as a natural pain reliever by depleting the amount of Substance P, therefore decreasing the number of pain signals sent to the brain. Capsaicin creams are great for relieving arthritis, sore muscles, and even nerve pain.
Healthy weight control
The consumption of capsaicin causes a temporary increase in body temperature and may shift the body from carbohydrate oxidation to fat oxidation. This is most likely why cayenne pepper can help regulate blood sugar levels after a meal. Furthermore, capsaicin intake makes you feel fuller faster, leading to a calorie and fat-intake reduction, perfect for staving off weight loss or making dietary changes. A study in mice has shown an increase in brown fat metabolism once capsaicin reached the small intestine. Brown fat metabolism is associated with increased energy expenditure and decreasing overall body fat. For someone that wants to lose fat, both calorie reduction and increased energy expenditure may be accomplished with capsaicin intake.
It kills cancer too!
Surprisingly, the most promising research into capsaicin intake is related to its cancer-fighting properties. Prostate cancer tumors shrank by 80 percent when exposed to capsaicin. Another study found it to destroy lung cancer cells and pancreatic cancer cells without destroying nearby tissue. The capsaicin kills these cancer cells by triggering the mitochondria in the cells to undergo apoptosis, or cell-suicide. Do not be surprised to see more research emerging in the coming decade in regards to cancer-fighting and prevention with the use of capsaicin.
Spice up your dinner tonight
A few sprinkles can be added to most foods for pleasant warmth. The more you add, the more heat you will notice without altering the flavor of your food. As the cold weather approaches, adding some hot pepper to chili or other comfort foods will keep your furnace burning and help prevent the usual winter weight gain.
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