Since 1983, the famous rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, led by the shirtless Anthony Kiedis, have been turning on fans around the world and demonstrating remarkable longevity.
Now, it seems, their namesake vegetable could help you rock a little longer, too.
A large cohort study from the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, which was co-authored by Benjamin Littenberg and Mustafa Chopan and was published in the January issue of the journal PLOS One, found that individuals who consumed red chili peppers had a lower risk of death from all causes over an average of 18 years than those who did not eat the spicy food.
The study collected data from 16,179 adults aged 18 and over in the United States. Participants answered the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey III between 1988 and 1994.
“We used a national database generated by questionnaires and laboratory measurements. Participants’ confirmative answers to a specific question of hot red chili pepper consumption was used to identify our consumers versus non-consumers,” researcher Mustafa Chopan told Olive Oil Times.
Scientists then looked at data from a median follow-up of 18.9 years using the National Death Index and analyzed specific causes of death. “Fans” of chili peppers had a 13-percent decrease in total mortality, and the association was stronger for deaths from heart disease or stroke.
The chili pepper is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum, which belongs to the nightshade family, Solanaceae. Originating in Mexico and having a steady presence in the diet of peoples of the Americas since at least 7,500 B.C., chili pepper varieties found themselves in all corners of the world after the Columbian Exchange.
What seems to suggest that this celebrated plant can ward off the ravages of aging is the compound giving it the intensity and fierce flavor, capsaicin.
“Capsaicin, the principal component found in the chili peppers, is hypothesized to account for the observed association between chili peppers and longevity,” Chopan said. “Capsaicin acts through a family of receptors and has been shown to have anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, metabolic and anti-microbial properties in various in vivo and in-vitro studies. These properties may protect against chronic diseases.”
This family of receptors are called the Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels and are predominantly receptors for agents like capsaicin.
The activation of TRPV1, also known as the capsaicin receptor and the vanilloid receptor 1, more specifically, may trigger the activation of cellular mechanisms against obesity, and this by modifying mediators of lipid catabolism and thermogenesis. Such protection, logically, results in decreased risk of cardiovascular, metabolic, and lung diseases, as stated in the study.
“It is important to note that our study does not establish causality; it suggests only an association,” Chopan pointed out. “We know that the association between chili pepper consumption and mortality is not due to random error or social and lifestyle factors, but some unmeasured variable could confound this relationship. Even if it were causal, our study does not say much about potential mechanisms.”
Still, the January 2017 study supports 2015 research of about 500,000 Chinese people, which found that those who ate spicy food at a frequency of three times a week over a seven-year period decreased their risk of dying by 14 percent compared to those who abstained from spicy food.