As scientists tap the plant world to find new, unexpected therapies for life-threatening maladies, perhaps it’s only natural they would turn to the distinguished pickled caper. After all, capers have been used in folk medicine for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
These immature flower buds of the caper bush are a delicious accompaniment to many a fine meal. Now, scientists at the University of California’s Irvine School of Medicine have found pickled capers might one day help doctors treat epilepsy, abnormal heart rhythm and other disorders.
The UC scientists say in a recent study that a compound found in pickled capers can regulate the release of proteins that impact brain and heart activity, and muscular contractions. The compound is called quercetin [kwer-SEH-tin]. And it can also play a part in helping the normal functioning of the pancreas, thyroid and gastrointestinal tract.
The compound, researchers say, modulates something called potassium ion channels, which are involved in the transmission of electrical signals among cells. And the malfunction of those channels has been associated with many health problems, including diabetes, cardiac arrhythmia and epilepsy.
The study notes that by understanding how quercetin regulates those channels, medicines might be created in the future as a way to battle some of these illnesses.
Quercetin isn’t just found in pickled capers. It’s also in red wine, apples, berries and green tea. Researchers say they, too, might provide the same health benefits. More study must be done to fully determine their impacts.
In any case, hats off to the tiny caper. It might just have an outsized impact on our health.