Do you like spicy food? If so, you share my passion for hot peppers. I cannot be neutral about this topic since I am a confirmed “chile-head.” I’m not the only one. Salsa sales are soaring. The market for hot sauce swelled more than 150% over the last several years. There is growing scientific support for the health benefits of chile peppers. No matter how you spell hot peppers (chili, chilli, or chile), the capsaicin ingredient that tingles taste buds is revered around the world.
New Research on Chile Peppers and Longevity:
There have been numerous previous studies on the potential health benefits of chile peppers. We describe several of them below. However, researchers have completed a meta-analysis of four studies of the cardiovascular effects of hot peppers (American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2020). To find those four, with 570,762 participants, they reviewed 4,729 scientific reports. Who knew there had been so many?
How Chile Pepper Consumption Affects Mortality:
When the scientists compared mortality rates of people who never or rarely ate hot peppers to those who consumed them on a regular basis, they found significant differences. Pepper heads were 26 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease, 23 percent less likely to die of cancer and, overall, 25 percent less likely to die during the follow-up period. The investigators note that because the four studies were conducted in different places (China, Iran, Italy and the United States), the amount and types of chile peppers consumed varied. As a result, they can’t give recommendations with any confidence.
While this study is the most recent, other scientists have found similar benefits. You may wish to read about some previous studies.
“This study sought to examine the association between chili pepper consumption and risk of death in a large sample of the adult Italian general population, and to account for biological mediators of the association.”
The investigators followed 22,811 men and women for an average of 8.2 years. The chili pepper lovers had a statistically significant lower risk of dying from cardiovascular or other causes.
“Findings from this large Mediterranean population-based cohort show that regular consumption of chili pepper is associated with lower risk of total and CVD [cardiovascular disease] mortality, with larger magnitude observed for IHD [ischemic heart disease] and cerebrovascular-related deaths.”
The pepper lovers in this study ate chiles more than four times a week.
After eight years of follow-up, the investigators found that they lived longer than people who avoided hot peppers:
“In a model adjusted only for age, sex, and energy intake, regular consumption (>4 times/ week) of chili pepper was associated with 23% lower risk of all-cause mortality, as opposed to none/rare intake, and results remained substantially unchanged in the fully adjusted model.”
Significantly, the benefits of hot peppers were even more apparent in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality (34% reduction).
Dr. J. David Spence points out, though, that eating a Mediterranean diet with lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes is far better than just putting hot sauce on burgers and fries.
Previous Research on Chile Peppers and Longevity:
Investigators from the University of Vermont examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III covering over 16,000 American adults who were followed for 19 years (PLOS One, Jan. 9, 2017). Those who reported eating hot peppers were about 13 percent less likely to die during the study.
Here’s how the data broke down. Over the roughly two decades of the study 4,946 people died. The people who shunned spicy stuff had a mortality rate of 33.6 percent. The hot chile pepper lovers died at a 21.6 percent rate. This was after the investigators controlled for things like diet, smoking, blood pressure, age, gender, diabetes, and other risk factors.
The authors concluded:
“In this large population-based prospective study, the consumption of hot red chili pepper was associated with reduced mortality. Hot red chili peppers may be a beneficial component of the diet.”
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The History of Hot Stuff:
Chile pepper lovers have been around for thousands of years. Indigenous peoples of Mexico were using hot chiles 7,000 to 9,000 years ago. It didn’t take the people of South Asia long to catch up. Red hot peppers caught on there in the 1500s. India is now a major producer and consumer of chile peppers. People in China and Thailand also cherish chiles.
Health Benefits for Pepper Lovers:
Hot peppers and other pungent spices have a range of health benefits. Capsaicin has been shown to improve heart health. The hot stuff in hot peppers (capsaicin) improves circulation, lowers cholesterol and triglycerides, relaxes blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. It may also have anti-cancer potential.
The analysis from researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine is not the first hint that hot pepper lovers live longer. A large study in China found a similar association in 2015. The investigators tracked 199,293 men and 288,082 women for over seven years. People who loved spicy foods had significantly better mortality stats than individuals who preferred bland food (BMJ, Aug. 4, 2015).
The authors note:
“Compared with those who ate spicy foods less than once a week, those who consumed spicy foods 6 or 7 days a week showed a 14% relative risk reduction in total mortality…Inverse associations were also observed for deaths due to cancer, ischemic heart diseases, and respiratory diseases.”
So, two independent large prospective studies confirmed a relationship between hot chile pepper consumption and longer life. In one study the “lower hazard of death” was 13% and in the other it was 14%. That’s amazingly close. And these were distinctly different populations–Americans and Chinese.
The authors of the PLOS One study propose that TRP channels could be part of the mechanism. Never heard of Transient Receptor Potential channels before? Then you have not been reading The People’s Pharmacy carefully. In this article, you will learn why stimulating TRP channels with things like capsaicin, acetic acid (vinegar), mustard, ginger or cinnamon can stop muscle cramps in under two minutes.
Interview with one of the brilliant neuroscientists who came up with this approach:
TRP activation may help modulate coronary blood flow as well as impact a number of other biological systems. Hot peppers may also affect the make-up of the microbes in the digestive tract, which could also have a positive impact on human health. And let’s not forget that chile peppers contain lots of essential nutrients including vitamin C and several B vitamins.
Hot Pepper Lovers Share their Secrets:
Visitors to this website have been singing the praises of hot peppers for years. Here is just one example about using chile peppers to overcome migraines.
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” Read Joe's Full Bio.
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Kaur M et al, "P1036 - Impact of chilli-pepper intake on all-cause and cardiovascular mortality - A systematic review and meta-analysis." American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2020.
Bonaccio M et al, "Chili pepper consumption and mortality in Italian adults." Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Dec. 24, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2019.09.068
Spence JD, "Chili pepper consumption and cardiovascular mortality." Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Dec. 24, 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2019.08.1071
Chopan M & Littenberg B, "The association of hot red chili pepper consumption and mortality: A large population-based cohort study." PLOS One, Jan. 9, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0169876
Lv J et al, "Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause specific mortality: Population based cohort study." BMJ, Aug. 4, 2015. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h3942
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