NUTRITION TIPS: Including chili peppers in your diet may reduce your chances of dying from a heart attack or stroke
These protective benefits extend to a variety of chili peppers — belonging to the capsicum species — consumed in different ways throughout the world, say researchers
People who regularly gorge on spicy food have a reason to cheer. A new study suggests that eating chili peppers — four times a week or more — may cut down the risk of dying from a variety of illnesses, according to a study conducted by Italian researchers.
The study found that consuming chili peppers cuts people's risk of dying of a heart attack by 40% and stroke by 50%. Further, the spice lowers the risk of death for every cause by 23%, compared to those who disliked it.
The health benefits of the spice run across various cultures. These protective benefits extend to a variety of chili peppers — belonging to the capsicum species — consumed in different ways throughout the world, the researchers say.
For eons, people have been using peppers and other spices to color, flavor and preserve food, as well as for medicinal purposes.
"The beneficial properties of all kinds have been associated with its consumption, mostly on the basis of anecdotes or traditions, if not magic," says Licia Lacoviello, Director of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the I.R.C.C.S. Neuromed and Professor of Hygiene and Public Health at the Università dell'Insubria of Varese.
"It is important now that research deals with it in a serious way, providing rigor and scientific evidence," Lacoviello adds.
These findings are consistent with some of the previous studies. A Chinese team observed a 10% lower mortality rates among participants who reported eating spicy food once or twice a week than those who ate spicy food less frequently.
A US study found a 13% reduced risk of premature death compared to those who avoided them.
In the current study, the researchers wanted to see whether chili pepper protects people regardless of the diet people consumed, in addition to tracking its role in health.
So the Italian researchers followed 22,811 citizens of the Molise region in Italy for eight years. They observed their health status and compared them with their eating habits.
According to the results, hot chilies may be giving its regular consumers an edge — even among those who followed a less healthy diet. These people had lower chances of dying from heart attack and stroke.
"An interesting fact is that protection from mortality risk was independent of the type of diet people followed. In other words, someone can follow the healthy Mediterranean diet, someone else can eat less healthily, but for all of them, chili pepper has a protective effect", explains Marialaura Bonaccio, Neuromed epidemiologist and first author of the publication.
However, these findings have one limitation. It is an observational study, meaning it cannot prove that chilies are solely responsible for these benefits, experts say.
Observational studies do not factor in other causes that may interfere with the outcome of the study. For instance, longer lives could also be attributed to regular exercise.
Additionally, as the study hinges on the participants' memory, some participants can erroneously report their frequency and quantity of consumption of individual food items.
The study has been published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC).