Adding pickled capers to your meal may boost brain and heart health

IRVINE, Calif. — It’s well known that certain foods can have a positive impact on your wellbeing. New research shows how one food that usually takes a back seat in most dishes can actually have a profound effect on your body and mind. Scientists reveal that pickled capers contain a key compound which improves brain and heart health.

Capers are the immature flower buds of a wild bush (the caper bush) which grows in the Mediterranean. In the United States, capers are commonly pickled for use as a garnish on dishes like smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels.

The salty green garnish is rich with a compound called quercetin. The compound is a plant pigment that one can find in many products including red wine, onions, green tea, fruits, Ginkgo biloba, and St. John’s wort. Researchers say capers are the richest natural source of quercetin. The pickling process is also believed to increase the amount of quercetin in the buds.

Capers play a healthy ‘trick’ on the body

The study finds that quercetin modulates a specific type of ion channel in the body, called the KCNQ channel. Ion channels are specific proteins in cell membranes that allow ions like sodium, potassium, and calcium to travel in and out of cells. KCNQ channels help the transport of potassium. Quercetin regulates how KCNQ channels sense electrical activity in the cell, thus regulating potassium transport.

Scientists are testing different plant extracts to see how they affect KCNQ channel function. The UCI team finds caper extracts activate these channels. Specifically, the caper extract “tricks” the ion channels into opening when they would normally be closed. This allows potassium to move across the cell membrane.

“Increasing the activity of KCNQ channels in different parts of the body is potentially highly beneficial,” says lead researcher Geoffrey Abbott in a media release. “Synthetic drugs that do this have been used to treat epilepsy and show promise in preventing abnormal heart rhythms.”

The study is published in Communications Biology.

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