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Skin cream could prevent heart attack damage

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A new study from University of Cincinnati shows that capsaicin, a common over the counter pain cream, could help protect the heart from damage during a heart attack. Preliminary findings show that rubbing capsaicin on the skin triggers signals in the nervous system that protect the heart until interventions can be performed to restore blood flow to the heart.

Research led by Keith Jones, PhD revealed that capsaicin, applied to specific skin areas in mice, activated a survival mechanism for heart muscle during heart attack. The study showed an 85 percent reduction in heart cell death when capsaicin was applied.

Dr. Jones says, “Topical capsaicin has no known serious adverse effects and could be easily applied in an ambulance or emergency room setting well in advance of coronary tissue death. If proven effective in humans, this therapy has the potential to reduce injury and/or death in the event of a coronary blockage, thereby reducing the extent and consequences of heart attack.”

Another study finding showed that making a small incision in the abdomen also protected the heart during heart attack. Jones says, “These are the most powerful cardioprotective effects recorded to date. This is a form of remote cardioprotection, using a skin stimulus that activates cardioprotection long before the blocked coronary artery is opened.” The researchers say that capsaicin, and the effect of the incision, have the same neurologic mechanism that protects the heart from damage during heart attack.

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The theory from the scientists is that the skin is designed to protect in various ways in animals. According to Neal Weintraub, MD, a UC Health cardiologist and director of UC’s cardiovascular diseases division, also working on the study, “By activating these sensors in the nervous system, via skin, we think that a response to preserve and protect the heart is triggered,” Capsaicin applied to the skin might offer a different type of therapy for heart attack victims – one that is non invasive and inexpensive.

Applying capsaicin to the skin to save the heart muscle during a heart attack also blends Western and Eastern medicine.

“We think that this technique is fooling the body into sending out protective signals”, says Dr. Jones. “This may be similar to the way certain acupuncture treatments work; there may be a neurological basis. In a broad sense, this work may provide a ‘Rosetta stone’ for translating alternative medicine techniques - like acupuncture - to Western medicine. Perhaps we can understand the biological mechanisms of how alternative treatments may be successful for patients.”

The researchers do not suggest using capsaicin at home if you believe you might be having a heart attack however. More work need to be done to target the exact location that capsaicin could be applied to the skin to protect the heart during heart attack, as well as optimal dosage. Capsaicin comes from chili peppers, and is approved by the FDA as a temporary pain remedy when rubbed on the skin.

UC Health News



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