Spicy food isn’t just delicious, it could help you live longer. Eating hot chili peppers can reduce your chance of dying, and help prevent heart disease and strokes, says a new study from the University of Vermont (a place with notably not a lot of spiciness in its regional cuisine).
According to the study, eating chilis reduces total mortality by 12%, and is “associated with a 13% reduction in the instantaneous hazard of death.” To determine chilis’ health benefits, the researchers looked at a long-term health survey which included the consumption of red hot chili peppers in its data. The study ran from 1988 to 1994, and the frequency of chili pepper consumption was measured in 16,179 of the participants. The specific question was “How often did you have hot red chili peppers? Do not count ground red chili peppers.”
We’ll start off with this quote, direct from the newly published paper:
Compared with participants who did not consume hot red chili peppers, those who did consume them were more likely to be younger, male, white, Mexican-American, married, and to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and consume more vegetables and meats. They had lower HDL-cholesterol, lower income, and less education.
The Vermont team crunched the data to see what, if any, link existed between chili peppers and mortality. To make the study more accurate, they adjusted for the demographic and socioeconomic status of the participants, along with their personal habits. The results showed a clear correlation between eating spicy chilis and not dying, although the nature of the study means that one doesn’t necessarily cause the other. For instance, it could be down to other foods often consumed with chilis.
Still, assuming that chilis are indeed magical life extenders, how might they do it? The key ingredient is probably capsaicin, the part that makes them hot. It could be, say the authors, that capsaicin stimulates our cells to prevent obesity, which in turn reduces cardiovascular, metabolic and lung diseases. Capsaicin is also known for its antimicrobial properties, and regular consumption might alter the biome in our gut. A 2009 study concluded that spices could reduce the chance of cancer.
This is all good news for chili lovers, and a great argument to have ready the next time a dinner guest complains that you’ve made the food too hot (as if that’s even possible).