Regularly eating hot red chilli peppers could help you live for longer, possibly by helping to burn extra fat, according to US researchers.
Researchers at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont found that consumption of the peppers was associated with a 13 per cent reduction in total mortality in a large prospective study published in medical journal PLOS ONE.
Going back centuries, peppers and spices have been prescribed to treat disease, but only one other study, in China, has previously examined chilli consumption and its link to mortality. This new study seems to mirror those earlier results.
The researchers examined national health and nutritional data from more than 16,000 Americans over a 23-year period and found that the consumption of hot red chilli peppers seemed to delay death. Over that time, 4946 of the participants died.
Total mortality for participants who consumed hot red chilli peppers was 21.6 per cent compared to 33.6 per cent for those who did not, a difference of 12 per cent.
Once the researchers adjusted for demographic, lifestyle, and clinical differences, they found that the hazard of death was reduced by 13 percent (i.e. people who eat chilli peppers are 13 per cent less prone to dying compared to people who don’t eat chilli peppers).
Those who regularly consumed hot chilli tended to be younger, male and married, the study found. They were also more likely to drink alcohol and eat vegetables and meats, and have lower cholesterol, lower income and less education.
Precisely how chilli peppers may extend life by warding off disease is “far from certain”, the study’s two authors, medical student Mustafa Chopan and Professor Benjamin Littenberg, wrote.
They speculated it could be that capsaicin, the active component that makes chillis hot, plays a role in cellular and molecular mechanisms that prevent obesity and modulate blood flow to the heart.
Capsaicin is also thought to possess antimicrobial properties that “may indirectly affect the host by altering the gut microbiota”, Mr Chopan wrote. Gut bacteria is currently a big area of interest for obesity researchers.
“Because our study adds to the generalisability of previous findings, chilli pepper – or even spicy food – consumption may become a dietary recommendation and/or fuel further research in the form of clinical trials.”
The findings seemed to corroborate a 2015 study conducted by Chinese epidemiologist Dr Lu Qi, who also found a link between regular consumption of chilli peppers and reduced mortality.
The authors were careful to point out that the results simply showed an association or link between longer life and chilli, not definitive proof.
“Given the observational nature of both investigations, causality can only be suggested, not confirmed.”
Other limitations of the study were that it did not account for all possible found confounders, which means another food in the diet of participants could have been the cause of the health benefits.
Also, it was published in an open access journal not a prestigious medical journal, which means it may have been subjected to less intense scrutiny and editorial oversight.
And the analysis did not examine how much red pepper chilli the participants were eating.
Another 2012 study, conducted on animals, suggested that capsaicin helps break down ‘bad’ cholesterol that builds up in the arteries while leaving behind ‘good’ cholesterol.
– with AAP