Capsaicin is an active compound found in different types of hot peppers. It is responsible for their spiciness, as well as for the health benefits associated with them. One of the most notable things capsaicin is known for is its ability to relieve pain. Several studies have shown that capsaicin can decrease the intensity of pain signals by reducing the production of substance P, a chemical that acts as a pain messenger in the body.
However, capsaicin is not only good for relieving pain. In a recent study, Japanese researchers discovered that the compound also exerts protective effects against fat accumulation and oxidative stress. They reported that capsaicin significantly decreased the visceral fat and liver fat of rats that were given alcohol and fed a high-fat diet.
The researchers discussed their findings in an article published in the Japanese Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
The damaging effects of excessive fat and alcohol consumption
There are many reasons why eating fatty foods is bad for your health. According to a study published in the journal Laboratory Investigation, just one fatty meal is enough to cause negative changes in the arteries as well as to the red blood cells (erythrocytes) of healthy individuals.
Four hours after eating a high-fat meal, researchers found that erythrocytes changed from round discs into smaller and less functional cells with a tendency to clump. The fatty meal also increased the levels of myeloperoxidase (MPO), an enzyme believed to be involved in the development of coronary artery disease. These changes, the researchers concluded, promote the destabilization of vulnerable plaques, which increases the risk of heart attack.
Like fatty foods, consuming too much alcohol is also known for its damaging effects. Research has found that alcohol promotes the buildup of digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas. This causes the organ to become inflamed — a condition known pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can be acute or long-lasting. If it becomes chronic and severe, pancreatitis can be life-threatening.
The inflammation triggered by excessive alcohol consumption can also damage the liver and result in scarring, or liver cirrhosis. In some cases, this damage is irreversible and can eventually stop liver function, at which point nothing but a liver transplant could save a patient’s life. (Related: Study: Exercise can keep cirrhosis and liver cancer at bay.)
Alcohol also has deleterious effects on the central nervous system and can reduce communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Besides affecting coordination and balance, alcohol can cause brain damage and make it difficult to create long-term memories. Heavy drinking also causes stomach ulcers and increases the risk of mouth, throat, esophageal, colon and liver cancer.
Capsaicin can protect against the effects of alcohol and high-fat diet
To test the effects of capsaicin against a high-fat diet and alcohol, the researchers fed four-week-old rats experimental diets for four weeks. They assigned the rats to four different groups, namely, the control group, the capsaicin group, the group fed a high-fat diet plus alcohol, and the group fed a high-fat diet plus alcohol and capsaicin. Alcohol was given to the animals as a replacement drink for water.
The researchers reported that there was no difference between each group in terms of body weight gain and total food intake. The capsaicin group and the capsaicin plus alcohol group both had significantly lower posterior abdominal wall fat weights, triglyceride concentrations in the liver and oxidative stress levels than the control group.
The researchers also found that the same parameters were significantly lower for the capsaicin plus alcohol group than the alcohol group, suggesting that capsaicin not only has a positive influence on fat accumulation and blood lipid levels, but also has antioxidant properties that can protect against oxidative stress.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that capsaicin reduces fat accumulation and oxidative stress caused by a high-fat diet and alcohol. The compound can also be expected to prevent dyslipidemia, or abnormal blood lipid levels.
FightObesity.news has more studies and stories on natural fat-burning agents like capsaicin.