SPICE UP YOUR HEALTH
New evidence points to potential longevity benefits from hot, spicy chili peppers
6/15/2016 By Craig Weatherby with Macaela Mackenzie
Spicy Peppers must rank among the Americas’ greatest gifts, transforming cuisines across the globe within decades of the Spanish conquest.
Oddly, until recently, people in most U.S. regions remained ignorant of, or indifferent to, spicy, chili-rich food. But in a sign of fast-changing times, salsa recently replaced ketchup as America’s most popular condiment.
We’ve already got pretty good evidence that spicy peppers boost metabolism and may help prevent diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
The secret ingredient? The heat in hot peppers comes from a compound called capsaicin, which sparks that familiar burning sensation.
Capsaicin is also a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, bringing health benefits much less obvious than watering eyes and runny noses.
Eat spicy heat, live longer?
Beyond the possible metabolic and anti-cancer benefits described below, spicy food may lengthen your life.
Last year, a team from the Harvard School of Public Health and Peking University reported their analysis of survey data from 434,556 Chinese adults (Lv J et al. 2015).
They followed the participants for 7.2 years on average, and asked them to fill out periodic questionnaires that probed their general health condition as well as how often they ate spicy, chili-rich foods.
Compared with eating little or no hot, spicy food, routine enjoyment of spicy food was linked to reduced short-term death risks:
Eating chili-spiced foods 1–2 times a week was linked to a 10% drop in the risk of early death
Eating chili-spiced foods 3–7 times a week was linked to a 14% drop in the risk of early death.
These links between eating lots of hot, spicy food and living longer persisted after the results were adjusted to account for the effects of diet and lifestyle factors known to affect longevity.
Specifically, the evidence linked spicy foods to a reduced risk of early death due to cancer, heart disease, and lung conditions.
The research did not show — all other things being equal — that frequent consumption of spicy foods extends people's life spans.
Unsurprisingly, the benefits seen in this population study were strongest for participants who got protective capsaicin and carotenoids mostly from fresh chili peppers, rather than from chili powder or chili oil.
Spicy peppers versus cancer
Earlier this year, University of Maryland researchers wrote this: "… the preponderance of the data strongly indicates significant anti-cancer benefits of capsaicin …”. (Clark R et al. 2016)
Specifically, capsaicin significantly suppresses the growth of tumors, including melanomas … the deadliest kinds of skin cancer … at least in test tube experiments.
But we’re a long way from proving that chili-rich diets reduce cancer rates significantly.
Can chilies help keep you slim?
Capsaicin also seems to possess metabolism-boosting, appetite-damping powers.
Three years ago, Dutch researchers reported that 2.5mg of capsaicin — the amount in about 1 gram of chili pepper — eaten with every meal over a day and a half causes people to start burning significantly more calories:
"Addition of capsaicin to the diet has been shown to increase energy expenditure; therefore, capsaicin is an interesting target for anti-obesity therapy.” (Janssens PL et al. 2013)
The Dutch findings make sense, give the Taiwanese lab study we summarized in Hot Factor in Chilies May Hinder Fat Build Up, which showed that capsaicin curbs the growth of fat cells … at least in test tubes.
It’s believed that the potential weight-control benefits of chilies flow not just from capsaicin, but also from their abundance of healthful carotenoid-class antioxidants.
Accordingly, some studies suggest that these potential waistline benefits extend to capsaicin-free sweet bell peppers … see Can Peppers Aid Weight Control?.
Spicy blood-sugar benefits
An Australian study found that chili peppers reduced the amount of insulin required to lower blood sugar after a meal (Ahuja KD et al. 2006).
The participants’ insulin requirements dropped even lower when chilies were a regular part of their diet. Helpfully, these blood-sugar benefits were higher among people carrying excess weight, which is a risk factor for diabetes.Spicy Peppers May Lengthen Spice-Lovers' Lives