Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
7 Reasons Why Chili Peppers Make You Live Longer
New research reports that people who eat red hot chili peppers live 13% longer. In this article, I will review the studies and share seven reasons why there may be truth that chili peppers make you live longer.
The Scoville Scale
At the young age of 19, I was suddenly introduced to the upper end of the Scoville scale. By way of background, the Scoville scale was created in 1912 by American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. To create this scale, Dr. Scoville measured the subjective heat units of peppers. While not a perfect test, the Scoville scale is the best way we have of measuring how hot a pepper is.
Getting back to my story, I was invited over for dinner by the Lau family. At the time I was living in New York City and the Lau family had just immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand. I was looking forward to this meal as I had never experienced real Thai food before.
As soon as I walked in the door, the smell of Thai food made my mouth water in anticipation. However, with the first bite, it wasn’t my mouth but rather my eyes that were watering.
I had never eaten something so hot before in my life. Little did I know at that time but Thai peppers score 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville heat units. To put that in perspective, that’s about 23 times hotter on the Scoville scale than the jalapeño pepper.
Needless to say, with a lot of rice and a lot of water I did my best to get through the meal. As hard as I tried to be a grateful guest, I suspect it was pretty obvious that I was struggling.
Stomach Ulcers and Spicy Foods
As I was doing my best to eat the authentic Thai food at the Lau family, I remember wondering if I was going to get a stomach ulcer. This is because doctors in the 1980s still believed that spicy foods caused ulcers.
Fortunately, this myth has been largely debunked. Medical studies now consistently show that hot peppers actually prevent and heal ulcers. Even though your ulcer pain might be worse after eating hot peppers, the peppers are helping the ulcer to heal faster.
Chinese and American Hot Pepper Studies
In 2015 the world was shocked to learn that in a large study of 487,375 people living in China, those eating hot peppers almost every day lived 14% longer. As reported in the British Medical Journal, the cause for this marked mortality reduction was largely due to less heart, cancer, and lung deaths.
As my blog readers are well aware that medical studies are often contradictory, you need to see multiple studies all come to the same conclusion before results can be accepted. To confirm the results of this large Chinese study, a new study on hot peppers in the U.S. was just published.
In this American red hot chili pepper study, researchers from the University of Vermont Medical College closely followed 16,179 people for 19 years. Over this 19 year period of time, researchers noted that 4,946 people had passed away. However, those eating the most hot peppers lived 13% longer.
What was really remarkable about this American study was that those eating the most chili peppers were also the people most likely to smoke, drink, and eat excessive amounts of meat. Thus, even though their vices would have predicted an early death, somehow the chili peppers may have extended their lives.
7 Reasons Why Chili Peppers Make You Live Longer
How do you explain why studies consistently show that chili peppers are associated with a longer lifespan? Below are my 7 best reasons why chili peppers make you live longer.
1. Less Inflammation
As I discussed in blog #197, keeping inflammation levels as low as possible was the secret to a recent study showing how you could live to age 110. The active compound in chili peppers, capsaicin, is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.
2. Less Heart Disease
For decades now it has been observed that people eating chili peppers are less likely to get blood clots. This effect is largely due to decreased platelet clumping in your blood. Indeed, this effect alone may explain why chili pepper eaters are 18% less likely to suffer from a heart attack.
3. Less Cholesterol Plaque
Cholesterol is totally harmless until it is oxidized in your arteries. This is why there is so much confusion about cholesterol on the Internet.
Traditional medicine has focussed on reducing cholesterol. This strategy has worked because if there is less cholesterol circulating around then there is also less of it that can be oxidized into a cholesterol heart plaque.
However, an equally effective approach is to live in a way so that the cholesterol is never oxidized into the plaque at all. With this in mind, chili peppers may help.
Indeed, studies show that chili peppers prevent oxidation of cholesterol in the arteries. If cholesterol is never oxidized, then heart plaques never form. And if hearts are free of plaque, then heart disease rarely occurs and people live longer.
4. Lose Weight
If you want to boost your metabolism, eat more peppers. Not only is your mouth on fire with chili peppers but your whole body increases in temperature as well. Having a higher body temperature burns more calories.
5. Less Cancer
Capsaicin has long been recognized for its powerful anti-cancer effects. Indeed, if you put cancer cells next to capsaicin, the cancer cells don’t stand a chance. Perhaps this helps to explain why the large Chinese study showed 8% less cancer deaths in those people eating the most chili peppers.
6. Less Diabetes
Studies show that people eating the most chili peppers have the best glucose control. Whether this is due to the beneficial effects of chili peppers on gut health, or other reasons, chili pepper eaters have been observed to have less diabetes.
7. Lowers Blood Pressure
As 90% of Americans will face high blood pressure by age 55, anything you can do to naturally lower blood pressure will help you live longer. To achieve this goal, chili peppers may help.
Studies show that capsaicin lowers blood pressure. While this blood pressure lowering effect probably isn’t enough alone to get you off of blood pressure medications, it can help.
Take Home Message
The key message of this new American chili pepper study is that most of us probably need to eat more peppers. With each passing year, more and more studies are confirming that chili peppers are a superfood.
While I have come a long way since my first introduction to chili peppers at age 19, I still don’t eat enough of them. After carefully reviewing this study, I am going to redouble my efforts.
Personally, I find it much easier to add dried chili peppers to stir-fry dishes, soups, or chilis than to cut up fresh chili peppers. Fortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a health difference when comparing fresh versus dried chili peppers.
Do you eat chili peppers every day? How do you eat them?
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Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.