Eating chilli peppers may help us to live longer
Preliminary study suggests consuming spicy peppers may reduce death by all causes by up to a quarter.
Make mine a vindaloo! People who regularly chow down on chilli peppers may live for longer and have a significantly reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer, research from Cleveland Clinic’s Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute suggests.
Previous studies have found that capsaicin, the compound that givers chilli peppers their characteristic kick, can have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer and blood-glucose regulating effects when consumed.
To further investigate the effects of consuming chilli peppers on health, the team gathered together the health and dietary records of more than 570,000 patients in the United States, Italy, China and Iran published in four previous large-scale scientific studies.
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They found that those who ate chilli peppers regularly had a 26 per cent reduction in cardiovascular mortality, a 23 per cent relative reduction in cancer mortality, and a 25 per cent relative reduction in all-cause mortality, compared to those who rarely or never ate them.
“We were surprised to find that in these previously published studies, regular consumption of chilli pepper was associated with an overall risk-reduction of all cause, CVD and cancer mortality. It highlights that dietary factors may play an important role in overall health,” said senior author and cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic's Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute Dr Bo Xu.
“The exact reasons and mechanisms that might explain our findings, though, are currently unknown. Therefore, it is impossible to conclusively say that eating more chilli pepper can prolong life and reduce deaths, especially from cardiovascular factors or cancer," he added.
“More research, especially evidence from randomised controlled studies, is needed to confirm these preliminary findings.”
Additionally, as the exact amount and type of chilli pepper consumed varied across the studies it is tricky to determine exactly how much and what type of chilli peppers may provide health benefits. However, the team are continuing to analyse the data in search of more concrete evidence.
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Reader Q&A: What would happen if a person ate just meat and nothing else?
Asked by: Rebecca Sedgwick, Dorking
Not much – at least in the short term. In a 1928 study, two ‘normal’ men ate only meat for one year, under the supervision of medical researchers in New York. At the end of the year the men showed “no specific physical changes in any system of the body”.
Today, fans of a ‘carnivore diet’ claim it brings weight loss and improves digestive health. But with so much evidence of plant foods’ anti-cancer effects, the jury is out on whether a meat-only diet is actually healthy in the long term.
Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.
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