- People who eat chili peppers may be 26% less likely to die of heart disease and 23% less likely to die of cancer compared to people who don’t, according to a new study.
- Capsaicin, the substance that gives chili its spicy kick, is linked to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which could explain these health benefits.
- More research is needed to show whether chilis can directly cause lower risk of illness, and to determine what type of chilis and how much you should eat for best results.
People who eat chili peppers may live longer and have lower risk of heart disease and cancer compared to their spice-averse counterparts, according to a new study.
Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic analyzed four large studies on chili peppers and health, including data from more than 570,000 people in the US, Italy, China, and Iran.
They found people who ate chili peppers were 26% less likely to die of heart disease, and 23% less likely to die of cancer, compared with people who rarely or never ate chilis.
“We were surprised to find that in these previously published studies, regular consumption of chili pepper was associated with an overall risk-reduction of all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. It highlights that dietary factors may play an important role in overall health,” Dr. Bo Xu, senior author of the paper and a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, said in a press release.
These findings will be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2020 this month.
It’s not yet clear how much or what types of chili pepper you’d need to eat in order to experience benefit or how often you should eat them, since the studies included in this research looked at different amounts and types of chilis.
The research also did not prove that chili peppers directly cause better health outcomes, so more research is needed to understand how it might work.
“The exact reasons and mechanisms that might explain our findings are currently unknown. Therefore, it is impossible to conclusively say that eating more chili pepper can prolong life and reduce deaths, especially from cardiovascular factors or cancer,” Xu said.
Capsaicin, the substance that gives chilis their heat, is linked to many health benefits
Previous research has found that hot peppers may help reduce inflammation, lower the risk of illnesses, relieve pain, and could even help people lose weight or stave off age-related cognitive decline.
All these benefits are linked to a specific chemical found naturally in hot peppers: capsaicin, a compound that’s responsible for the spicy sensation associated with chilis.
Capsaicin may have originated as a defense mechanism for pepper plants to deter fungi and other organisms from eating the seeds of the plant.
The fiery sensation of eating a hot pepper occurs because capsaicin binds to the pain receptors in the body, and promotes the release of hormones in the body that can lower blood pressure, and improve metabolism and digestion.
But the irritation stimulated by capsaicin also prompts the body to produce dopamine and other endorphins to tackle the perceived threat.
That’s why some people enthusiastically enjoy spicy foods, while other people steer clear of such pungent seasonings. If you’re in the latter group, don’t worry — you can still get the health benefits of capsaicin by eating milder sources such as cherry, Anaheim, and poblano peppers, or spices such as paprika.