Many people enjoy spicy foods for a variety of reasons: the flavor, the heat, the rush. But if you’ve got a penchant for hot peppers and all things spicy, it seems that you could be reeling in quite the health benefits along with that punch of heat. Earlier this year, research on the benefits of hot pepper consumption found that spicy peppers could boost longevity and reduce mortality risks. It may not feel like it when your mouth is on fire, but it seems that spicy foods can actually help you live longer.
While peppers and spices have been considered to be beneficial for the prevention and treatment of diseases for thousands of years, not much research has been done. Only one other study — pioneered by Chinese researchers and published in 2015 — has specifically examined the relationship between chili pepper consumption and mortality. This most recent study out of Vermont supports the previous findings.
Research demonstrates hot pepper benefits for longevity
A team of scientists from the Larner School of Medicine at the University of Vermont found that regular consumption of hot red chili peppers reduced mortality risks by up to 13 percent. Most of this benefit was attributed to a reduction of heart disease- and stroke-related deaths. Their research was published in the journal PLoS ONE.
The researchers used the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) III to collect data from over 16,000 Americans who were followed for up to 23 years. Medical student Mustafa Chopan and Professor of Medicine Benjamin Littenberg, M.D. worked together to examine the baseline traits of the participants according to their level of hot red chili pepper consumption. In general, they found that the most frequent consumers of hot 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,” when compared to those who didn’t eat hot red chili peppers.
Data from a median follow-up of 18.9 years was also analyzed, and the researchers were able to observe the number of deaths as well as the specific causes of death. Overall, they found that consuming hot red chilies reduced mortality risks by up to 13 percent — mostly by way of heart disease or stroke. The team stated, “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.”
Capsaicin is thought to be the primary culprit behind the health benefits of hot peppers, and is believed to play a role in cellular and molecular mechanisms that help prevent obesity and regulate blood flow, among other things like altering the bacteria populations of the gut.
Health benefits of capsaicin
Research continues to demonstrate that capsaicin — which is a compound found in peppers that makes them spicy — has a wide variety of health benefits. Capsaicin is even used topically to help relieve pain. Creams made from the compound are often used to help treat arthritis, sore muscles and even nerve pain. The structure of capsaicin allows it to excite pain-sensitive nerve endings. As Dr. Daniel Zagst explains, as you are feeling a burning sensation, “the excited neurons release a neurotransmitter called Substance P that transmits the feeling of pain to the brain.” Capsaicin works as a natural pain reliever by depleting Substance P, and consequently decreasing the number of pain signals that are being sent to the brain.
Studies have also shown that consuming capsaicin raises your body temperature temporarily. This increase in temperature may also correlate with a bodily shift from carbohydrate oxidation to fat oxidation, which may explain why consuming cayenne pepper appears to help regulate blood sugar levels. Consuming capsaicin also helps promote feelings of fullness and satiety, which can help reduce total calorie consumption and fat intake.
Beyond that, capsaicin is thought to be able to help fight off or even prevent cancer, heart disease and likely, much more.