From Kara Murez Health Reporter
MONDAY, November 9, 2020
The spice that adds a punch to your favorite chicken kung pao, Tex-Mex chili or Indian curry can also help save lives.
Preliminary research shows that eating chili peppers can reduce the risk of death from heart disease, cancer and other causes, based on past studies that have found that chili peppers have health benefits.
“I think a lot of people will find this information fairly new and pleasantly surprising,” said Penny Chris-Etherton, a professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University College College, who reviewed the findings.
For the study, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio reviewed health and diet data from more than 570,000 participants in four large studies conducted in the United States, Italy, China and Iran. The researchers compared the health results of people who ate chili peppers with those who rarely or never ate.
Result: Those who ate chili peppers had a 26% reduction in death from heart-related causes, a 23% reduction in cancer deaths, and a 25% reduction in all-cause mortality during the study period.
Although dietary and cultural practices were different, similar trends were observed in all four countries, said senior author Dr. Bo Xu, a cardiologist. The findings highlight the impact of diet on overall health, he said.
But what is the magic in chili peppers?
Researchers have pointed to a chemical component called capsaicin – which is responsible for the spiciness of the pepper – as a potential explanation for the benefits of chili. It has been studied before, Xu noted.
“People promote it as something that is anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-obesity,” he said, speculating that capsaicin explains the obvious health benefits of chili pepper. But Xu added that further study was needed to confirm it.
Xu, meanwhile, encourages patients in their cardiology practice to eat a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits and vegetables, as well as certain types of nuts, protein, fish and olive oil.
“Pay attention to your diet because dietary factors can be both positive and negative,” Xu said. “I think it’s really important to pay attention to what you eat in terms of promoting your overall and cardiovascular health.
Chris-Etherton noted that past studies have shown that capsaicin helps to slow the growth of cancer cells, which may play a role in reducing cancer mortality and all causes.
Chili peppers contain potassium, fiber and vitamins A, B6 and E, she said, noting that these can benefit blood pressure. And adding chili peppers can replace some of the salt that a person might otherwise add to food. Many people – including Americans and people from Asian cultures – eat a very high-salt diet, Chris-Etherton added.
“Instead of just cutting out salt, people are looking for spices and flavors, and this could be the one that has a double benefit, reducing sodium and adding some antioxidants and maybe some bioactive components like capsaicin,” she said.
But too much good work can also cause problems. Hot peppers can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a burning sensation in the gastrointestinal tract, she explained.
If you want to add chili pepper to your diet, Chris-Etherton suggests using it as an aroma.
“People could use them with certain foods. Well, let’s say they want to make something like guacamole, which is good, but then pair it with healthy foods,” said Chris-Etherton. “Do not get chili peppers by eating a lot of avocados with a ton of chips.
The study did not break down the amount and type of chili peppers that may be needed for health benefits. Xu also said it was too early in the research to give dietary guidelines for eating chili peppers to improve health outcomes.
Researchers continue to analyze the data and hope to publish the entire paper soon. Preliminary findings are due to be presented at a virtual meeting of the American Heart Association Nov. 13-17.
Learn more about chili peppers and health from the US National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Bo Xu, MD, Cardiologist, Institute of Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Diseases, Cleveland Clinic, Ohio; Dr. Penny Chris-Etherton, Professor, Nutrition Sciences, College of Health and Human Development, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Paris; American Heart Association, Announcement for Scientific Sessions, November 9, 2020
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