Live long & hotter: Chili peppers may lead to longer life

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Pungent spices, such as chili peppers, have been shown to increase lipid catabolism in different organs and tissues. ©iStock/Bjernesph
Pungent spices, such as chili peppers, have been shown to increase lipid catabolism in different organs and tissues. ©iStock/Bjernesph

Related tags: Black pepper, Obesity

In news that will delight lovers of curry and other spicy food, scientists have found that eating hot red chili peppers may lower the risk of death from vascular–related conditions.

Data collected from a prospective study revealed a 13% reduction in dying from diseases such as stroke and heart disease.

Findings appear to back up previous work that confirms the efficacy of certain bioactive compounds contained in spices.

These include capsaicin, the principal component in chili peppers, which has been implicated in increased protection against obesity, a reduction in the risks of hypertension and atherosclerosis (artery narrowing).

The anti-microbial activity of this spice may also alter the gut microbiota that goes on to influence various metabolic conditions such as diabetes.

Other spices, such as turmeric, ginger and garlic may possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that could serve to prevent various chronic diseases.

Red hot profile

Here, researchers from the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, gathered dietary and lifestyle information from more than 16,000 Americans who were followed for up to 23 years.

They discovered that those who ate hot red chili peppers generally fitted a profile that was made up of younger, male, white, Mexican-Americans.

These males were usually married, smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol, and consumed more vegetables and meats when compared with those who did not consume the peppers.

They then examined data from a median follow-up of 18.9 years of these subjects and calculated the number and specific causes of death.

After adjusting for potential confounding factors, such as other foods consumed that contained other spices, or marital status and physical activity, the team concluded that ‘consumption of hot red chili peppers was associated with a 13% reduction in the instantaneous hazard of death.’

"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 medical student and co study author Mustafa Chopan.

Spicy action

probiotics live bacteria gut health
Capsaicin’s antimicrobial properties may affect the host by altering the gut microbiota, which has been linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver cirrhosis. ©iStock

While the research team acknowledged that the pepper’s mechanism was uncertain, they highlighted the role of Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels, which are primary receptors for spicy agents such as capsaicin.

In particular, activation of TRP vanilloid type 1 (TRPV1) may promote cellular mechanisms that provide protection against obesity.

This is thought to involve the modification of factors controlling lipid breakdown and heat production in humans.

Capsaicin’s antimicrobial properties were also mentioned with an indirect effect on the host hypothesized that took a route via the gut microbiota.

“Changes in bacterial composition, production of metabolites, and number of colonies have been linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver cirrhosis,”​ the study’s authors explained.

“Regulators of cellular growth are inactivated by various spices, including capsaicin. Hot red chili peppers also contain other nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin C and pro-A vitamin, which may partly account for its protective effect.”

Source: PLOS One

Published online ahead of print:  doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0169876

“The Association of Hot Red Chili Pepper Consumption and Mortality: A Large Population-Based Cohort Study.”

Authors: Mustafa Chopan, Benjamin Littenberg

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