Are Hot Peppers Good for You? 6 “Yesses,” 1 “Maybe.”

Are hot peppers good for you
Are hot peppers good for you

My oldest son loves spicy food! So recently, he asked me to research the question, “Are hot peppers good for you?”

How much does he love spicy food? He nearly always has a bottle of hot sauce handy during dinner and adds a few drops to every bite! When we go out to eat, he always asks for the HOTTEST spice.

Science measures chili peppers’ “perceived heat” in Scoville units. Be scared of the “Ghost!” Argonne National Laboratory CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

However, to answer his question, moderate amounts of hot pepper are good for him. And regarding moderate consumption, I found four studies supporting chili pepper’s life-extending properties.

How Researchers Approached the Question “Are Hot Peppers Good for You?”

  • One of the most recent papers, published in March 2021, reviewed the available research on the links between eating spicy foods, heart disease risk, and all-cause mortality. 

In total, the reviewed research followed over half a million adults for nearly ten years on average. During that time, regularly eating spicy food had a 12-percent lower risk of death from any cause.

They also experienced a “significant reduction” in dying from heart diseases. But spicy foods didn’t impact the death rate for brain-related conditions.

  • A similar November 2020 meta-analysis from researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation found even more impressive results for chili pepper fans.

Compared to the non-consumers, they enjoyed a 25-percent reduction in all-cause deaths. More specifically, they were 26-percent less likely to succumb to heart disease and 23-percent less likely to die from cancer. Once again, chili pepper had no impact on deaths from brain-related conditions such as stroke.

  • In a December 2019 study, Italian researchers offered 22,811 adults four choices to describe their chili-pepper consumption:
  1. None or rare
  2. Up to two times a week.
  3. More than two times, but less than four times a week.
  4. More than four times a week.

Comparing the lowest and highest consumption categories, they found a 23% reduction in all-cause death among those eating chili peppers more than four times weekly.

After finding lower death rates among heart disease and stroke patients, they also determined the results were independent of other causes such as heart-disease risks and “adherence to a Mediterranean diet.”

  • Finally, a 2017 study from the University of Vermont College of Medicine included 16,179 participants. Once again, chili-spice consumption correlated with a lower risk of all-cause death. The researchers summed up their findings:

Adults [consuming] hot red chili peppers had a 13% lower hazard of death, compared to those who did not.” 

The results of these four studies asking “Are hot peppers good for you’  speak for themselves. A 12% to 25% lower mortality risk is significant! 

Why It’s  Sometimes Wise to Turn Down the Heat

Yes, we can live longer by “spicing up our lives.” But the adage, “All things in moderation,” still applies – overeating chili spice can harm us!

A cohort study published in May 2019 involving 4,582 Chinese adults identified an increased cognitive decline in those with the greatest fondness for chili peppers.

The researchers grouped the participants according to their daily pepper consumption:

One study suggests chili powder may be bad for you (IF you eat more than 6 tablespoons a day!)
  • 1 to 20 grams
  • 20 to 50 grams
  • Over 50 grams a day

The 50-or-more-grams group had nearly double the risk of self-reported “poor memory” and “memory decline.”

How much chili spice is that? Fifty grams of powdered chili equals 6.25 tablespoons!

However, the same researchers clarified in another study that such high chili intake is rare in the Western world. Not so in China, with about 30 percent of the study’s participants exceeding 50 grams a day.

In their words:

“Chili intake in China is different from Western/European countries both in terms of types and amounts. In Western populations, the intake of chili is less likely to reach 50 g/day.” 

That said, eating chili in moderation can benefit your brain. Chili peppers get their mouth-scorching heat from capsaicin, measured in Scoville units.

study of a capsaicin-rich diet’s benefits concluded that the “moderate” Chinese chili eaters would probably be glad to hear:

“These findings suggest…  a capsaicin-rich diet may exert favorable effects on AD [Alzheimer’s disease] blood biomarkers and cognitive function in middle-aged and elderly adults.” 

So, in answer to my son’s question, “Are hot peppers good for you?”

Yes, they are. They may extend your life and protect your heart and brain – as long as you enjoy them in moderation!

 

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