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Review
Capsaicin may have important potential for promoting vascular and metabolic health
  1. Mark F McCarty1,
  2. James J DiNicolantonio2 and
  3. James H O'Keefe2
  1. 1Catalytic Longevity, Encinitas, California, USA
  2. 2Mid America Heart Institute, St. Luke's Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mark F McCarty; markfmccarty{at}gmail.com

Abstract

Capsaicin, the phytochemical responsible for the spiciness of peppers, has the potential to modulate metabolism via activation of transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) receptors, which are found not only on nociceptive sensory neurons, but also in a range of other tissues. TRPV1 activation induces calcium influx, and in certain tissues this is associated with increased activation or expression of key proteins such as endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS), uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2), KLF2, PPARdelta, PPARgamma, and LXRα. The calcium influx triggered by TRPV1 activation in endothelial cells mimics the impact of shear stress in this regard, activating and increasing the expression of eNOS—but also increasing expression of cox-2, thrombomodulin, and nrf2-responsive antioxidant enzymes, while decreasing expression of proinflammatory proteins. Hence, dietary capsaicin has favourably impacted endothelium-dependent vasodilation in rodents. TRPV1-mediated induction of LXRα in foam cells promotes cholesterol export, antagonising plaque formation. Capsaicin-mediated activation of TRPV1-expressing neurons in the gastrointestinal tract promotes sympathetically mediated stimulation of brown fat, raising metabolic rate. The increased expression of UCP2 induced by TRPV1 activation exerts a protective antioxidant effect on the liver in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and on vascular endothelium in the context of hyperglycaemia. In rodent studies, capsaicin-rich diets have shown favourable effects on atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver, cardiac hypertrophy, hypertension and stroke risk. Clinically, ingestion of capsaicin—or its less stable non-pungent analogue capsiate—has been shown to boost metabolic rate modestly. Topical application of capsaicin via patch was found to increase exercise time to ischaemic threshold in patients with angina. Further clinical studies with capsaicin administered in food, capsules, or via patch, are needed to establish protocols that are tolerable for most patients, and to evaluate the potential of capsaicin for promoting vascular and metabolic health.

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

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