written by: Dr. Kristie Leong
• edited by: Diana Cooper
• updated: 9/24/2010
Habanero peppers are hot - and for good reason. Discover the surprising health benefits of habanero peppers, and why you should add more to your diet.
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They’re hot and spicy – and loaded with health benefits. But habanero peppers do more than just heat up your tongue; they may protect against a variety of diseases and help with weight loss too. What are the health benefits of habanero peppers?
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Habanero peppers are a rich source of a natural chemical called capsaicin, which gives them their fiery heat. So powerful is the heat of capsaicin that it can burn bare skin if it touches it. It’s not surprising that such a powerful compound might have a role in fighting off cancer.
When researchers at the University of California and Los Angeles treated cancerous prostate tumors in mice with a hot pepper extract, it caused the tumor cells to stop growing and dividing. It only took 400 milligrams of a pepper extract containing capsaicin to do this, which isn’t beyond what a normal person would eat.
Why is the capsaicin in habanero peppers so effective in stopping tumor growth? No one knows for sure, but capsaicin is a strong antioxidant, which may play a role. Of course, more research is needed to see if the same benefits hold true in humans.
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Several studies show that the capsaicin in habanero peppers boosts the body's fat burning rate. One study in rats found it does this partially by stimulating proteins that break down fat, and inhibiting ones that store it. Rats that were fed a high-fat diet plus capsaicin lost 8% more weight than rats receiving the same diet minus the capsaicin in habanero peppers. Could it play a role in treating obesity? Hopefully, further research will answer this question.
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Eating habanero peppers could benefit people with arthritis because of its anti-inflammatory effects. In addition, the capsaicin in these peppers is an ingredient in some creams and ointments applied topically to the skin to treat arthritis pain. It’s a safe and effective treatment for most people when used on healthy, unbroken skin, although it should be used under a doctor’s care.
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The capsaicin in habanero peppers could protect against type 2 diabetes. Adding peppers containing capsaicin to food reduces the amount of insulin that’s released in response to a meal. A reduction in insulin release helps to protect against metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Habanero peppers may also help pre-existing diabetics by reducing their risk of heart disease – by preventing oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which can lead to a heart attack.
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Other Health Benefits of Habanero Peppers
Habanero peppers are very low in calories with only 15 calories per half cup, and they’re almost fat-free. They’re also a good source of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, iron, and lycopene, a natural antioxidant. Isn’t it time to add some to your recipes? Just make sure you have a glass of milk nearby to put out the fire.