If hot peppers make you feel like you’re dying, first drink some milk. Once your mouth cools, you’ll be glad to know hot red peppers might be associated with a longer life.
A study by University of Vermont researchers, which was published in PLoS ONE earlier this month, looked at a large-scale US health survey and compared mortality data and self-reported hot red chili consumption among its subjects—some 16,000 of them, followed for 23 years. Subjects who said they ate hot red chilis regularly happened to die less often from heart disease or stroke than comparable subjects who did not eat hot peppers.
“Because our study adds to the generalizability of previous findings, chili pepper—or even spicy food—consumption may become a dietary recommendation,” or could inspire future research into the association, said author and medical student Mustafa Chopan in a release. Consumption of red hot chili peppers was associated with a 13 percent reduction in overall mortality, they found.
A few caveats: The researchers noticed a statistically significant correlation between people who ate hot red chili peppers and people who were less likely to die from heart attacks and strokes, but they didn’t make definite claims that the chili peppers are the cause of a longer life. They even hedge their findings by stating that “the mechanism by which peppers could delay mortality is far from certain.” What’s more, the pepper-eating was self-reported.
But science is all about building up evidence, and this is only the second study to ever been done on hot peppers and longer life, according to the University of Vermont researchers. It’s just another step towards solving the puzzle.
Chopan and University of Vermont Professor of Medicine Benjamin Littenberg reviewed data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, which assesses health and nutritional status using interviews and physical exams.
They found subjects who said they ate “hot red chili peppers” tended to have lower HDL cholesterol and total cholesterol, lower rates of hypertension, ate both more vegetables and meats than participants who did not eat chili peppers—but were also more likely to smoke and drink.
Adjusting for other factors, researchers still found a statistically significant connection between lower mortality and eating hot red peppers.
Another study done by Chinese researchers looked at the consumption of spicy food and how long about 487,000 people lived. That research, done over four years, found a relationship between living longer in general and eating spicy food.
The Vermont researchers raise the question of whether capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers hot, could be responsible. Capsaicin is thought to help with cellular and molecular processes that prevent obesity, help regulate blood flow and improve microbial gut health, they state.
The survey didn’t ask participants which type of chili peppers they ate, and there are five species of peppers, each with hot variants, including cayenne peppers, Tabasco peppers and Japanese peppers. Some websites claim there are nearly 100 types of hot peppers, including the hottest man made varieties that hurt significantly more than pepper spray. The survey question specifically asked about “red hot chili” peppers, so consumption of peppers like jalapeños may not have been factored in by participants, the study authors noted.
By Meredith Rutland Bauer