Eating chili peppers could prolong your life, a new study has found. Based on research examining the health records of half a million people in countries such as China, Italy, Iran and the United States, it found that those who ate chili peppers reduced their risk of all-cause mortality by 25 percent.
The study was conducted by the Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute of the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. The lead author of this study, Dr. Bo Xu, reported to the BBC: “Our study is unable to answer the questions of what type of hot chilies, how they are taken, the amount and frequency, because that too is a point that varies from study to study.
“I suspect, however, that the active ingredient contained in the hot chilies, a chemical called capsaicin, probably provides much of the potential health benefits.
However, Dr. Xu stressed that the data in the research is still preliminary and will not lead to a change in the guideline recommendations. The study also found that compared to people who rarely or never ate chili pepper, people who ate chili pepper showed a 26 percent reduction in cardiovascular mortality, a 23 percent reduction in cancer mortality and a 25 percent relative reduction in all-cause mortality.
In previous studies, capsaicin was found to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that help prevent cancer, and the researchers also found that eating chili peppers was associated with a lower risk of dying of heart disease.
However, a study involving more than 4,500 people also found that those who ate more than 50g of chili per day complained of memory loss twice as often*.
Eating a lot of chili was associated with 56 percent memory loss over 15 years, but researchers warned that the conclusions were highly speculative. Dr. Xu also warned against drawing too many early conclusions from the latest study.
He said: “We were surprised that in these previously published studies, regular consumption of chili pepper was associated with an overall risk reduction in all-cause mortality from CVD and cancer. He emphasizes that dietary factors can play an important role in overall health.
“However, the exact causes and mechanisms that might explain our results are not known at this time. Therefore, it is impossible to say conclusively that eating more chili pepper can prolong life and reduce deaths, particularly from cardiovascular factors or cancer. Further research, especially evidence from randomized controlled trials, is needed to confirm these preliminary results”.
Dr. Xu said that despite advances in treatment and technology, cardiovascular disease remains the number one cause of death in the US and UK and he hopes that the discovery of a harmless food ingredient that improves cardiovascular health could benefit people’s health.
“I would say that if you enjoy spicy food, continue to do so, if you have avoided chili peppers because you don’t like their spicy taste, then hopefully this data is a potential incentive to encourage you to try them.
*Study methodology and notes
The health and nutritional data of more than 570,000 people in the United States, Italy, China and Iran were used to compare the results of those who consumed chili pepper with those who rarely or never ate chili pepper. The full study can be read here
To analyze the effects of chili pepper on mortality from all causes and cardiovascular disease, researchers reviewed 4,729 studies from five world-leading health databases (Ovid, Cochrane, Medline, Embase and Scopus).
The study, which suggested a link between chili consumption and memory loss, was based on 4,500 people over 55 years of age who participated in the China Health and Nutrition Survey between 1991 and 2006. Of these, 3,302 people were examined for cognitive function in at least two sessions in 1997, 2000, 2004 or 2006. Participants were asked to memorize 10 words from a list and count backwards from 20.