Eating hot red chili peppers may help a person live longer, suggests a new study. Hot peppers and its phytochemical capsaicin are well studied for their role in cancer protection.
The study, published in PLoS ONE, builds on a previous study among the Chinese conducted in 2015. That study found a link between pepper consumption and lower mortality from all causes along with cancer and several other diseases.
The new study focused on Americans. Using data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, researchers analzyed dietary and other lifestlye data of approximately 16,200 Americans. The participants had answered questions about what they ate and drank in the past month, including the specific question how often they had hot red chili peppers?
After an average of 19 years, those consuming any amount of chili peppers had a 13 percent lower risk of dying during the course of the study period copmared to non-chili pepper eaters. When looking at the cause of mortality, no one disease by itself — including cancer — stood out but there was a trend towards protection from heart disease or stroke.
There could be several reasons for the association. Chili peppers get their heat from the phytochemical capsaicin, which has shown cancer protective and many health benefits in lab studies. Studies have also linked capsaicin to reducing risk of obesity and improving coronary blood flow, cite the authors. The peppers also contain nutrients, including vitamins B and C.
In this analysis the authors took into account exercise, fruit and vegetable intake and other factors, but they did not adjust for such known mortality risk factors as obesity and diabetes. These conditions might be influenced by the chili peppers, the authors say. (Obesity and diabetes are also both linked to increased cancer risk.)
Other limitations of the study include that a person stating they ate chili peppers in the past month may not be eating them long-term. Spices and other common foods eaten with hot red chili peppers could also be playing a role.
This is an observational study and does not show a cause and affect. Further research is needed to look at other spices and to confirm the link, the authors conclude.