If you’re worried about ulcers, spicing things up might be the last thing on your mind.Yet jalapenos, habaneros — all those super-spicy hot peppers that add kick to the wonderful Mexican fare many of us enjoy on Cinco de Mayo — contain powerful compounds that might actually help ulcers heal.Si, senora! That’s the counter-intuitive new finding from Hungarian researchers, who demonstrated a 70% reduction in the size of stomach ulcers when capsaicin was introduced into lab rat chow.

Capsaicin, the pungent chemical of chile and cayenne peppers, is known to stimulate sensory nerves in several tissues, including the mouth, eyes and stomach lining.So why might it help with ulcers? Researchers speculate that the pepper compound might reduce gastric acid secretions that injure the stomach lining — as well as increase blood flow, thus supporting the body’s natural healing mechanisms.

While more research is needed to confirm benefits to humans, make moderation your byword with peppers — and the other staples of Cinco de Mayo. Gorging on nachos and other fatty foods trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals associated with clogged arteries — and don’t count on hot pepper’s proven metabolic boost to burn off gazillions of extra calories. Binge drinking margaritas can not only damage the brain, disrupt heart rhythms and increase stroke risk — but also compromise immunity, making you far more likely to get sick. Do enjoy a bit of guacamole, whose star ingredients —  avocado and cilantro – have been associated with liver protection, according to preliminary research, and try AICR's healthy Five-Pepper Salsa.
Published May 1, 2012