- A study of Italian adults found those who eat chili peppers at least four times per week had a 40% lower chance of dying from a heart attack. The research was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
- The researchers said people who often consume chili peppers reduce their mortality risk by 23% for every cause when compared with those who don't eat them. The analysis was done on 22,811 men and women enrolled, and the median follow-up period was 8.2 years.
- Marialaura Bonaccio, the study's lead author and an epidemiologist with the Mediterranean Neurological Institute, noted in an article that results are independent from the type of diet people eat. "In other words, someone can follow the healthy Mediterranean diet, someone else can eat less healthily, but for all of them chili pepper has a protective effect," she said.
While chili peppers are traditionally part of the Mediterranean diet, the researchers in this study said epidemiological data associating their consumption with mortality risk have been scarce, especially studies on populations in that region. These new findings help fill that gap, and they also dovetail with similar studies of other groups.
A 2017 study of 16,000 U.S. consumers for up to 23 years found regular consumption of chili peppers lowered mortality risk by 12%. Capsaicin — the component in chili peppers that can bring on a burning sensation — is believed to have antimicrobial properties and may regulate blood flow and alter gut microbiota, that study found. However, other research on Chinese adults have linked chili pepper consumption with general obesity and faster cognitive decline.
While most of the research seems positive, mixed messages overall could produce more confusion than clarity on the issue. Manufacturers may be wondering whether or not to shy away from producing spicier products by adding chili pepper. Consumers also may be considering whether it's a good idea to buy and eat them, or in what quantity.
In the meantime, spicy flavors are experiencing a resurgence in the marketplace. Spicy foods and flavors have grown in popularity in the U.S. Americans seem to be moving past the nation’s love of hot sauce as manufacturers highlight the different flavor notes of chilies and more authentic international flavors in a variety of products.
Chilies are showing up more often in snacks, ice cream and other dairy products. Candy has been spiced up as Snickers added Sichuan peppercorn, and Skittles and Starbursts have also gotten a hot reformulation. Dairy products also have been adding heat and spicy flavors since the creamy texture and sweetness can help reduce the sensation of heat that capsaicin produces in most pepper varieties.
It's likely more studies will be forthcoming on the health effects of chili peppers. Unless something really alarming comes out from future studies, the popularity of spice in foods and beverages will probably not abate anytime soon. In fact, the global spice market is expected to grow 6% between 2018 and 2023 to $30.4 billion, according to Prescient & Stratgic Intelligence.