If you’re a fan of chili peppers (the food, not the red hot band), then you’re in for some good news. Poblano peppers, chili oil (on pretty much anything), and chili chicken might all be better for you than you thought. According to a new study, chili peppers aren’t just fun for your taste buds — apparently, spicy food featuring chili peppers can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, CNN reports.
The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, surveyed the eating habits and risk of death of around 23,000 Italian people over eight years, some of whom ate peppers more often than others. Over the period, the participants who ate chilies at least four times each week were 40% less likely to die from a heart attack than participants who included the peppers in their meals less frequently. In that same cohort, those who ate chili peppers frequently reduced their risk of death from a stroke by more than 50%.
These results, researchers said, held true no matter what other dietary habits participants had. Additionally, the researchers found that even people who are genetically predisposed to cardiovascular disease still experienced some health benefits from consuming chili peppers regularly.
This is not the first study, however, to demonstrate a link between long-term health and spicy foods. In a 2015 study published in the journal BMJ, researchers found that increased consumption of chili peppers, in both dried and fresh forms, found that participants who frequently ate spicy food experienced a 14% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease-related deaths, in addition to experiencing less risk of dying from cancer and respiratory diseases. These findings are unsurprising, given that a 2016 study found that capsaicin, the compound that makes chili peppers spicy, is a powerful antioxidant; in some cases, it can encourage cell death, which reduces the spread of cancer cells.
Chili pepper consumption may be well and good for your health, but one 2013 study focusing on spice mill workers found that inhaling spice dust was linked to allergic respiratory diseases. Researchers found that even working eight-hour shifts with the air full of spice particulates — AKA, inhalable spice dust — was associated with an increased risk of developing allergic respiratory diseases and asthma.
So integrating whole peppers — both dried and fresh — into your meals might be a good way to make sure you’re getting their benefits. Just maybe have some rice on hand in case your mouth disagrees with your health.
van der Walt, A. (2013) Work-related allergic respiratory disease and asthma in spice mill workers is associated with inhalant chili pepper and garlic exposures. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23493379.
Zheng, J. (2016) Spices for prevention and treatment of cancers. Nutrients, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997408/.
Lv, J. (2015) Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause specific mortality: population based cohort study. BMJ, https://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h3942.
Bonnacio, A. (2019) Chili pepper consumption and mortality in Italian adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/74/25/3139.