Live Longer by Eat­ing Red Hot Chili Pep­pers?

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A new study has found that eat­ing hot red chili pep­pers is as­so­ci­ated with a 13% re­duc­tion in to­tal mor­tal­ity – pri­mar­ily in deaths due to clogged ar­ter­ies or stroke. How­ever, there could be more in­volved.

Re­searchers at the Larner Col­lege of Medicine at the Uni­ver­sity of Ver­mont ex­am­ined the re­sults of the Na­tional Health and Nu­tri­tional Ex­am­i­na­tion Sur­vey (NHANES) III data col­lected from more than 16,000 Amer­i­cans who were fol­lowed for up to 23 years. What they found was a cor­re­la­tion be­tween con­sump­tion of hot chili pep­pers lived longer de­spite other risk fac­tors.

They found that con­sumers of hot red chili pep­pers tended to be “younger, male, white, Mex­i­can-amer­i­can, mar­ried, and to smoke cig­a­rettes, drink al­co­hol, and con­sume more veg­eta­bles and meats... had lower Hdl-choles­terol, lower in­come, and less ed­u­ca­tion,” in com­par­i­son to par­tic­i­pants who did not con­sume red chili pep­pers. They ex­am­ined data from a me­dian fol­low-up of 18.9 years and ob­served the num­ber of deaths and then an­a­lyzed spe­cific causes of death.

Go­ing back for cen­turies, pep­pers and spices have been thought to be ben­e­fi­cial in the treat­ment of dis­eases, but only one other study – con­ducted in China and pub­lished in 2015 – has pre­vi­ously ex­am­ined chili pep­per con­sump­tion and its as­so­ci­a­tion with mor­tal­ity.

Im­age: Andee Dun­can

“Although the mech­a­nism by which pep­pers could de­lay mor­tal­ity is far from cer­tain, Tran­sient Re­cep­tor Po­ten­tial (TRP) chan­nels, which are pri­mary re­cep­tors for pun­gent agents such as cap­saicin (the prin­ci­pal com­po­nent in chili pep­pers), may in part be re­spon­si­ble for the ob­served re­la­tion­ship,” say the study au­thors.

There are some pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tions for red chili pep­pers’ health ben­e­fits, state Chopan and Lit­ten­berg in the study. Among them are the fact that cap­saicin is be­lieved to play a role in cel­lu­lar and molec­u­lar mech­a­nisms that pre­vent obe­sity and mod­u­late coro­nary blood flow, and also pos­sesses an­timi­cro­bial prop­er­ties that “may in­di­rectly af­fect the host by al­ter­ing the gut mi­cro­biota.”

“Be­cause our study adds to the gen­er­al­iz­abil­ity of pre­vi­ous find­ings, chili pep­per – or even spicy food – con­sump­tion may be­come a di­etary rec­om­men­da­tion and/or fuel fur­ther re­search in the form of clin­i­cal tri­als,” says Chopan.

Fur­ther stud­ies could ex­am­ine peo­ple ge­net­i­cally at risk for clogged ar­ter­ies to de­ter­mine what im­pact hot pep­pers might have on them. It would also be in­ter­est­ing to con­duct whole body map­ping and blood chem­istry stud­ies on those eat­ing chilies to see what kind of phys­i­o­log­i­cal re­ac­tion the body has to hot chilies.

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