Health Hit-Or-Miss News

Science Says Eating Chili Peppers Could Be The Key To A Longer Life

Claims that spicy foods provide health benefits have circulated for centuries. Now, scientists might be able to explain why.

In 2014, the National Center For Biotechnology Information claimed that cardamom, a spice used to make chai tea, was “linked to anti-tumor activity,” according to The Washington Post. That’s just one spice in a list of several that have been suggested to have medicinal properties.

Now, thanks to a study completed by the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, analyzed lifestyle data and mortality rates from more than 16,000 adults concluded that a compound in peppers has the ability to prevent factors that lead to heart disease and stroke.

In order to conduct this study, the authors used the Center for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey between 1988 to 1994, as the sample size in which to prove that the consumption of chili peppers — specifically capsaicin, the active component within them — can actually help you live longer. 

The illustration above shows a very simple depiction of where peppers contain capsaicin. It was found under the “capsaicin” hashtag on Instagram.

In short, the study found that people who regularly consumed capsaicin “had a 13 percent lower hazard of death compared to those who did not.”

Additionally, the study went on to claim that capsaicin actually acted like “an anti-obesity mechanism due to the interaction with the body’s transient receptor potential channels.” Transient receptor potential channels are different types of receptors that help regulate sensations like temperature and pressure.

Here’s an excerpt of the findings, pulled from the Discussion section of the study:

Activation of TRP vanilloid type 1 (TRPV1) appears to stimulate cellular mechanisms against obesity, by altering mediators of lipid catabolism and thermogenesis [27]. Protection against obesity leads to decreased risk of cardiovascular, metabolic and lung diseases.” — The Association of Hot Red Chili Pepper Consumption and Mortality: A Large Population-Based Cohort Study

Adding to the benefits of capsaicin, chili peppers also contain A, C, and B vitamins, all of which are essential to healthy diets.

What’s most important about these findings is that the study correlates positive reinforcement to already existing scientific studies that hypothesize that there are multiple health benefits to including spicy foods in a healthy diet.

The peer-reviewed study emphasizes that while there is no concrete evidence that eating peppers will lead to immortality — nor hold the keys to the fountain of youth — more research on this topic will only bring forth new concepts and knowledge that might benefit mankind.

“Such evidence may lead to new insights into the relationships between diet and health, updated dietary recommendations, and the development of new therapies.” 

So now, in the days where spicy challenges seem to be a popular trend, no matter how masochistic the act of eating hot chili peppers may seem, it’s safe to say there’s nothing like the sensation of a fiery mouth and a scorching, swollen set of lips that will look for anything to ease the pain.

Still, we insist on going back for more, and according to science, that’s a good thing.

Cravings Health Hit-Or-Miss

What You Should Know About Capsaicin – America’s Favorite Poison

America is in the middle of a massive spicy food craze. Spicy food is clearly one of the hot trends, with Nashville Hot Chicken, Sriracha, and spicy challenges dominating across restaurants and the internet. While we all love (or flee from) the burning pain that this food brings to our mouths, we don’t go too much into the science of spicy, other than that something called “capsaicin” is responsible for the fiery sensation.

Found in tons of different peppers worldwide in varying amounts, this compound is one of America’s most-loved, but also least understood. We’re going to break down what capsaicin really is all about, why it makes foods spicy, and why we may crave it so much.


Capsaicin is a poison


It turns out that there’s a set of neurons that can actually be permanently damaged by capsaicin, leading to some decreases in sensory function. However, the study that found this neurotoxicity discovered this damage through injection of pure capsaicin, not ingestion in normal chili form.

Capsaicin is also a poison because it triggers inflammatory responses and heat perceptions on our tastebuds. That’s why our lips often go red and swollen when we consume spicy foods, and why we shouldn’t touch our eyes after cutting or handling especially hot chilies (or use gloves instead). Those of us who ignored that warning know the resulting pain all too well.


It also is a great antimicrobial


Capsaicin has been shown in research to act as a bactericidal agent, meaning that it has the ability to actually kill bacteria. It’s also been one of our earliest food preservatives, as many cultures across the world developed stews cooked with chilies early on to protect against food poisoning and disease. It’s a big part of why chilies are integral parts of cuisines across the planet.


Capsaicin can help us fight through pain


When we eat chilies, we trigger the release of endorphins, or pain-blocking compounds to help us get through the heat. Capsaicin triggers that sensation of heat and pain, thus causing the release of those endorphins. This process has been used to help develop pain-fighting creams and patches that use natural capsaicin.


It’s one of the natural foods of birds

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Turns out that birds lack the ability to detect capsaicin in chilies as heat, and regularly eat chilies and other plants in the capsicum family, including bell peppers. Chef Dan Barber capitalized on this to feed his chickens enough peppers to develop red egg yolks that he now serves at his restaurant.


The Scoville Unit Scale is used to measured capsaicin content


Photo: Scoville Ratings

The Scoville Heat Unit Scale is actually a measure of how many water dilutions it would take to remove the spiciness from a particular pepper. Developed by Wilbur Scoville, this method has now been replaced by faster methods that follow the same principles and measure the heat of anything spicy or in the chili/capsicum family. Bell peppers are on the low end at 0 Scoville units, with the Carolina Reaper from the infamous One Chip Challenge topping the list of chilies at 2.2 million Scoville units — which is almost as hot as law enforcement-grade pepper spray.

Pure capsaicin tops out at 16 million Scoville heat units — a ridiculous amount of pain that nobody should want to put themselves through.


Adventurous people may like spicy food more


Research has shown that personality has an effect on whether you like spicy food or not, with more adventurous people tending to love spicy food more. There’s even been psychological differences displayed between men and women on their reasonings behind the preference for spicy food. It’s possible that how you like your spicy food actually does say something about who you are as a person.


Capsaicin can help people immune to caffeine to stay awake


People who are insensitive to caffeine won’t get more energy in the morning or find it easier to stay awake after drinking a cup of coffee. Spicy breakfasts like chilaquiles can give them the kick to get started in the day since it is a poison. That heat response triggers the release of adrenaline to get your body moving or going. If you’re finding that coffee isn’t giving you that jolt you need, try eating a chili pepper as part of your breakfast. It may jumpstart the day in a better way than coffee ever could.


While capsaicin is a potent poison and incredibly spicy, it’s also got tons of benefits that we can capitalize on. We definitely have a love-hate relationship with the chili pepper because of this compound, but it’s a core part of food around the world. Capsaicin is definitely one of the most interesting and definitive compounds in culinary history.