Life longevity is intimately tied to lifestyle decisions.

Successive studies have shown the health benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle and sticking to a healthy, balanced diet.

Flouting this advice can significantly raise a person’s risk of developing life-threatening complications such as cardiovascular disease.

Although certain dietary decisions may seem obvious, such as eating fruit and vegetables, it may come as a surprise that eating red chili peppers may also ward off fatal health complications.

Researchers at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, found that consumption of hot red chili peppers is associated with a 13 per cent reduction in total mortality – primarily in deaths due to heart disease or stroke.

Using National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) III data collected from more than 16,000 Americans who were followed for up to 23 years, medical student Mustafa Chopan and Professor of Medicine Benjamin Littenberg, M.D., examined the baseline characteristics of the participants according to hot red chili pepper consumption.

They found that consumers of hot red chili peppers tended to be “younger, male, white, Mexican-American, married, and to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and consume more vegetables and meats, and had lower HDL-cholesterol, lower income, and less education,” in comparison to participants who did not consume red chili peppers.

They examined data from a median follow-up of 18.9 years and observed the number of deaths and then analysed specific causes of death.

“Although the mechanism by which peppers could delay mortality is far from certain, Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels, which are primary receptors for pungent agents such as capsaicin (the principal component in chili peppers), may in part be responsible for the observed relationship,” said the study authors.

Capsaicin is believed to play a role in cellular and molecular mechanisms

Study authors

Chopan and Littenberg proposed some possible explanations for red chili peppers’ health benefits in the study.

Among them are the fact that capsaicin is believed to play a role in cellular and molecular mechanisms that prevent obesity and modulate coronary blood flow, and also possesses antimicrobial properties that “may indirectly affect the host by altering the gut microbiota.”

Reflecting on the findings, Chopan said: “Because our study adds to the generalisability 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.”

These results echo a study published in BMJ which found that eating spicy food more frequently as part of a daily diet is associated with a lower risk of death.

An international team led by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences examined the association between consumption of spicy foods as part of a daily diet and the total risk and causes of death.

They undertook a prospective study of 487,375 participants, aged 30-79 years, from the China Kadoorie Biobank.

Participants were enrolled between 2004-2008 and followed up for morbidities and mortality.

Significantly, the study found that participants who ate spicy foods almost everyday had a relative 14 per cent lower risk of death compared to those who consumed spicy foods less than once a week.

The association was similar in both men and women, and was stronger in those who did not consume alcohol.

Frequent consumption of spicy foods was also linked to a lower risk of death from cancer, and ischaemic heart and respiratory system diseases, and this was more evident in women than men.

Fresh and dried chilli peppers were the most commonly used spices in those who reported eating spicy foods weekly, and further analysis showed those who consumed fresh chilli tended to have a lower risk of death from cancer, ischaemic heart disease, and diabetes.

Some of the bioactive ingredients are likely to drive this association, the authors explained, adding that fresh chilli is richer in capsaicin, vitamin C, and other nutrients. But they cautioned against linking any of these with lowering the risk of death.

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