Regularly eating chilli peppers could provide previously unrecognised health benefits helping to lengthen people’s lives, a new study suggests.
Chilli eaters may have a “significantly reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer”, according to preliminary research which will be presented this week at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2020.
While previous research has found consuming chillies has an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer and blood-glucose regulating effect due to capsaicin – which gives chilli its characteristic hot taste, the study is the first large scale effort to compare reported consumption of chilli with disease mortality.
In order to assess the effects of chilli pepper on longevity, researchers screened 4,729 studies from five leading global health databases, these were: Ovid, Cochrane, Medline, Embase and Scopus.
These included four large studies which specifically included health outcomes for participants with data on chilli pepper consumption.
This provided the research team with the health and dietary records of more than 570,000 individuals in the United States, Italy, China and Iran, which allowed them to compare the outcomes of those who consumed chillis to those who rarely or never ate them.
Compared to those who “rarely” or “never” ate chillis, the analysis found people who did eat them had:
- a 26 per cent relative reduction in cardiovascular mortality
- a 23 per cent relative reduction in cancer mortality
- a 25 per cent relative reduction in all-cause mortality
“We were surprised to find that in these previously published studies, regular consumption of chilli pepper was associated with an overall risk-reduction of all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality,” said senior author Bo Xu, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute in Cleveland, Ohio.
“It highlights that dietary factors may play an important role in overall health,” he said.
But Dr Xu warned: "The exact reasons and mechanisms that might explain our findings, though, are currently unknown.”
“Therefore, it is impossible to conclusively say that eating more chilli pepper can prolong life and reduce deaths, especially from cardiovascular factors or cancer.
“More research, especially evidence from randomised controlled studies, is needed to confirm these preliminary findings.”
Dr Xu also cautioned that there are several limitations to this type of study. The four studies reviewed included limited specific health data on individuals or other factors that may have influenced the findings.
The researchers also noted that the amount and type of chilli pepper consumed was variable among the studies, making it difficult to draw conclusions about exactly how much, how often and which type of chilli pepper consumption may be associated with health benefits.
The research team said they are continuing to analyse their data and aim to publish a full paper in due course.