Imagine this: Instead of taking medication for a healthier heart, your doctor says you need to eat more flower buds. We know it sounds absurd, but recent research suggests that a specific compound found in pickled capers may help keep your heart in tip-top shape.
The tart and salty garnish used to embellish pasta and fish dishes (that some people either love or hate!) contains a compound called quercetin, which can directly regulate proteins essential for several key bodily functions, including thought processing, muscular contractions, and the regulation of your pancreas and heartbeat. Wild, right?
The discovery was made by researchers from the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, who recently published a study in the journal, Communications Biology. The study revealed that the compound found in capers modifies potassium ion channels in what’s known as the KCNQ gene family, which have a huge impact on your health. For example, if any dysfunction were to occur among these channels, it could cause you to develop diabetes, cardiac arrhythmia, or even epilepsy.
More specifically, quercetin regulates how these influential channels pick up on electrical activity in the cell, something that’s never been identified before and could potentially be used in drugs to help people with the conditions listed above.
“Now that we understand how quercetin controls KCNQ channels, future medicinal chemistry studies can be pursued to create and optimize quercetin-related small molecules for potential use as therapeutic drugs,” Geoffrey Abbott, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, said in a statement.
So, how did Abbott and his team of researchers stumble upon this discovery? They screened plant extracts in the lab and found that just one percent of an extract derived from pickled capers was enough to activate those all-important KCNQ channels. Within that extract is quercetin, which binds to a specific region of the channel that’s responsible for responding to electrical activity. As a result, it effectively tricks the channel (which is normally closed off) into opening. This function parallels what synthetic drugs do to help treat epilepsy as well as prevent abnormal heart rhythms.
It’s no wonder why capers have been used in folk medicine for potentially thousands of years—generations before us had theories of their capabilities to improve human health. Capers are also currently being studied as a remedy to prevent gastrointestinal issues, diabetes, and even cancer. So, now may be an excellent time to start eating them more regularly.
For more tips on how to promote heart health through diet, check out Putting Spinach in Your Smoothie May Help Prevent Heart Disease and The Secret to Preventing Heart Disease in Women Might Be the Mediterranean Diet.