Consumption of hot red chili peppers was associated with a 13% reduction in total mortality, primarily in deaths due to heart disease or stroke, in a large prospective study conducted by researchers at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont and published in PLoS ONE.
Going back 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.
This new study corroborates the earlier study’s findings. Using National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) III data collected from more than 16,000 Americans who were followed for up to 23 years, medical student Mustafa Chopan and Professor of Medicine Benjamin Littenberg, MD, examined the baseline characteristics of the participants according to hot red chili pepper consumption.
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. “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,” the study authors said.
There are some possible explanations for red chili peppers’ health benefits, they added. 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,” said Chopan.