Heart attacks affect 720,000 people annually, with 1 in every 4 dying from heart disease. Now that is a sobering statistic. While many genetic and environmental components have been studied, the use of alternative methods for treating heart attacks has not been so thoroughly researched.
One of these alternative methods that have gained popularity is cayenne pepper, which has made the rounds on the internet as having miraculous powers to stop a heart attack dead in its tracks.
While it may sound too good to be true, we will try and keep an open mind. However, if it sounds to good to be true oftentimes – it is.
So let’s investigate, does cayenne pepper actually help if someone is having a heart attack?
Does Cayenne Pepper work if you have a heart attack?
Cayenne pepper comes from the Capsicum family, which is related to chili peppers, jalapeños, and bell peppers. This hot pepper gets its heat from a substance called capsaicin. When eaten, capsaicin binds with pain receptors in the gut and mouth, creating a burning sensation.
There are some other chemicals in cayenne pepper at work including dihydrocapsiate.
Capsaicin works by inhibiting the neurotransmitter substance P. This substance is responsible for transmitting pain signals to the brain and it also plays a role in inflammation.
Capsaicin has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body as well as help to improve blood flow. This improved blood flow can help to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle which can help to prevent a heart attack from occurring.
Cayenne does have a number of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin K1, and potassium. There are also many other benefits of cayenne pepper including that it helps:
- an anti-inflammatory
- helping with digestion and circulation
- Reduces stress
- Boosts energy
- Anti-aging benefits.
- Reduces pain
- helps fight cancer
- lowers blood pressure
- helps with joint pain
While there is no denying that capsicum or cayenne is good for you. What is debatable, is the claim that it can stop a heart attack dead in its tracks.
Much of this confusion comes from Dr. John Christopher, nicknamed Dr. Cayenne, who reportedly claimed that cayenne could stop a heart attack dead in its tracks.
A quote from Herbal Legacy where Dr. Christopher states:
"In 35 years of practice, and working with the people and teaching, I have never on house calls lost one heart attack patient and the reason is, whenever I go in–if they are still breathing–I pour down a cup of cayenne tea (a teaspoon of cayenne in a cup of hot water, and within minutes they are up and around). This is one of the fastest-acting aids we could ever give for the heart because it feeds that heart immediately."
The website also gives out other cayenne pepper-related uses and dosages, including eyes, cuts, ulcers, and blood pressure. Before we go any further, let’s look into the evidence.
The evidence of using cayenne pepper for heart attack victims
There is evidence to suggest that capsicum can protect against inflammation in your body. There is also evidence that a diet rich in antioxidants can help to prevent heart disease, and because cayenne pepper was also found to have a number of antioxidants, it can be helpful in preventing a heart attack.
In a study by Penn State College of Medicine and published by Science Daily, researchers found evidence that the same type of nerve receptors that register the burning sensation from hot peppers in the mouth may cause the sensation of chest pain from a heart attack. The study states:
"Our study is the first to demonstrate that the 'hot pepper' receptor exists on the heart and may be responsible for triggering heart attack chest pain...until now, the capsaicin, or 'hot pepper' receptor, was only known for sensing heat and pain from the skin. Our data suggest that the 'hot pepper' receptors could become a new target for treatment of some types of chronic chest pain, such as angina pectoris, that are resistant to other treatments."
The conclusion here seems to suggest that there is some evidence that links cayenne use to preventative care
What this all means is that there is a link, but not necessarily causation.
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology was another widely cited story that made the rounds. The study consisted of a group of 22,811 men and women in Italy, concluding that those who regularly ate chili peppers more than 4x a week were 44% less likely to have died of heart disease and heart attacks compared to those who did not. The chili pepper-eaters were also 61% less likely to have died of cerebrovascular diseases such as strokes.
There again seems to be a correlation, but not anything that states emphatically that it helps victims in the middle of a heart attack.
In another 2009 study, Keith Jones, Ph.D., a researcher in the department of pharmacology and cell biophysics in Cinncinati used mice and induced a heart attack, rubbing capsaicin paste on the skin of their chest which triggered some nerves that protected the heart muscle from some damage. The reason appears that the nerves set off a series of chemicals that try to protect the injured muscle from further injury. This study concluded these signals activate cellular “pro-survival” pathways in the heart which protect the muscle and observed an 85 percent reduction in cardiac cell death when capsaicin was used.
Now, these are impressive findings, however, smearing capsicum on mice and seeing a reduction in cardiac cell death is one thing, and, ingesting cayenne pepper and having the heart attack stopped in its tracks is another.
Dr. Jones is also reported to have stated, that “capsaicin never had been found to stop a heart attack in its tracks. It was only shown to help protect the heart muscle (in mice).”
As of now no human studies have been done and though the capsicum might decrease the damage of a heart attack, as of right now we can not say that it stops one.
Why not use cayenne pepper just in case?
As we all might know, it is best not to mix drugs. It is suggested that aspirin does, in fact, help if you have a heart attack. In such a case, it may not be suitable to take aspirin together with cayenne pepper as they both thin the blood. So while we know Asprin can help, as studies suggest taking an aspirin during a heart attack decreases the overall death rate there is no conclusive evidence that cayenne pepper works.
Observational studies cannot prove that eating cayenne pepper protects the heart at the moment, it can only show an association. The causation link (that eating chili peppers caused a reduction in heart attack or stroke) can only be verified by a randomized controlled study, and there is none so far.
These findings suggest that there is a connection between cayenne pepper and the heart.
However, using cayenne for heart attack prevention and for someone who is in the middle of having a heart attack are two separate matters.
While there is some connection between cayenne and the heart, there is no trials and evidence to claim it as fact. The evidence is anecdotal at best.
If you are having a heart attack, call 911 and get to the hospital immediately. Do not try to treat it at home with cayenne pepper (or any other home remedy for that matter).
So all we know is that there is some connection between cayenne pepper and the heart, although there is no evidence to suggest that if you take 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper while having a heart attack you will be just fine.
“While chili peppers appear to be heart-healthy, it’s important to understand that you can’t just squirt a little hot sauce on your cheeseburger and call it good,” says Dr. Samaan.