peppers

  1. Pepper compound can improve blood flow

    The spicy way to boost your heart health

    There are two kinds of people in the world: People who love spicy food and people with no taste.

    I mean it. Peppers can save just about any tasteless dish (except tofu; don't even try it) -- and if that's not a good enough trick for you, they can even save your life.

    The compound that gives peppers the power to do both is called capsaicin. You know it the moment it hits your tongue, but the rest of your body gets a little taste too, especially the heart.

    And a new study shows how your heart loves this stuff even more than your taste buds do.

    Researchers gave two sets of hamsters high-cholesterol diets (now you're talking!) with either plenty of spice (now you're REALLY talking!) or none at all.

    Either way, a high-cholesterol diet is great for your heart -- but for those that got the spice, it was even better: The capsaicin blocked the gene that causes arteries to contract.

    That relaxed their arterial muscles, allowing blood to flow more easily to the heart.

    The spice-eating hamsters also had lower levels of LDL cholesterol, which proves, yet again, that dietary cholesterol will not necessarily raise blood levels of LDL and can, in fact, even lower them.

    Just don't get carried away in that department -- low cholesterol isn't just overrated, it's dangerous. Stay tuned later this week for more on that.

    For now, let me get back to peppers -- because those aren't the only benefits of capsaicin. This stuff can also fight off pain -- including pain from arthritis and headaches -- and even help you to lose weight.

    If you haven't tried peppers, don't be afraid of them -- they're delicious. And if you have tried them and just don't like them, I feel sorry for you -- but you can also get this stuff in supplement form.

  2. Vitamin C for your eyes

    If you want to protect your eyes, forget carrots -- there's another "C" that plays a much more important role in how you see: Vitamin C.

    Two new studies show how C can keep your peepers performing at their peak -- including one that finds that certain retina cells literally shut down when they run out of C.

    The researchers wrote in the Journal of Neuroscience that their finding suggests a diet rich in vitamin C may protect against glaucoma -- but more importantly, they say the retinal cells used in the study are closely related to similar cells in the brain.

    And if low C can cause those cells in the eye to go dark, just imagine how it can dim your mind.

    But let's get back to your eyes here, because another new study -- this one out of India -- finds that people with the highest dietary intake of C have a 39 percent lower risk of cataracts than those with the lowest C levels.

    That study was based on a questionnaire over dietary habits, so I'm not going to waste your time with the details -- but it's worth mentioning because plenty of other studies have also made a much more direct link between low C and cataract risk.

    I remember one a few decades back that found every 1 mg/dl increase in blood levels of vitamin C led to a 26 percent decrease in cataract risk.

    Along with vision, vitamin C also appears to have a direct impact on hearing: When I say "vitamin C," most people just hear "orange juice" -- and that's the last place you should be looking for this nutrient.

    OJ is pure sugar with some vitamin C swimming around in it. You may as well put vitamin C in your Coke.

    The best natural sources of C are actually peppers -- bell and chili -- along with broccoli, kale and papaya. But to get what you really need, you'll probably want a supplement.

    I suggest at least 1,200 mg a day, or roughly 15 times what the U.S. government recommends.

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