The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Chile Peppers Extend Your Life? Hot Peppers vs. Heart Disease!

People all over the world love hot peppers. New research suggests that chile peppers can help you live longer and reduce the risk of a heart attack.
Hand holding some red chili peppers in a vegetable garden.

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:

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (Dec. 24, 2019) described its objectives this way: 

“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.

The conclusions:

“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.”

The benefits of hot peppers were even more apparent in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality (34% reduction).

Overview on Chile Peppers:

An editorial in the same highly respected journal notes that the benefits of hot chile peppers were substantial, even greater than seen in other epidemiological studies (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Dec. 24, 2019). 

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:

https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2016/10/13/show-1054-the-scientific-explanation-for-a-weird-remedy/

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.

Would you like to learn more about hot chile peppers and other spices? We have a wonderful book for your reading and tasting pleasure. It contains fascinating stories about the healing power of food. In particular, you will discover how spices like hot chile peppers could enhance your life. Just look for Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life.

Why not spice up your life by joining pepper lovers all over the world?

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About the Author
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.” .
Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life
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Learn about the latest research on the surprising health benefits of herbs and spices. Find out how to make home remedies with spices that can help with common health problems.

Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life
Citations
  • 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
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I wonder how much this applies to ginger and garlic. And raw garlic vs cooked garlic.

And I, too, want to know if this also applies to green chile.

I love chile peppers and spicy foods and have been eating them since I was a young girl. I’m 76 now and still a Chile Head. The family joke is that I got my first “fix” via mother’s milk, as an infant in Texas. Yes, my long-lived Mom loved spicy foods too.

I’m wondering if dried chile powder is as helpful to health as fresh chiles? I use both in my diet … love a good fresh salsa… but I also make enchilada and mole sauces using ground dried chile. Also, did the story differentiate between green and red hot chiles?

Sprinkling cayenne pepper instead of salt — on anything you like seasoned — a total winner (albeit addictive — but that might not be a bad thing!

How hot do “hot” peppers have to be? Jalapeno hot? Habanero hot? Carolina Reaper hot? I like hot peppers but if they are too hot they give me heart burn. How hot for the nice effects?

Does this article apply only to the capsaicin ingredient as presented by the “Hot red chili peppers”?

Is there a supplement that contains the chili pepper ingredients that have these good side affects? As much as I love salsa, living in a “senior housing” situation which has communal dining, doesn’t allow many choices in food, so I don’t have access to foods containing chili peppers. Most of the residents don’t really care for hot, spicy foods. I’m 85 and still in perfect health and would like to maintain that.

What can reduce indigestion after eatng chilis? And red only or green too?

Folks with BPH or frequent urination can’t take pepper though I love it.

Ingesting hot peppers is fine, but elimination is painful!

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