Regular consumption of hot red chili peppers showed a 12% reduction of mortality risk, according to a recent study published in PLoS One.
The wide-ranging study collected data from more than 16,000 Americans for up to 23 years. Most chili pepper consumers, according to the study, were "younger, male, white, Mexican-American, married, and to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and consume more vegetables and meats" and ". . . had lower HDL-cholesterol, lower income, and less education."
Possible explanations for red chili peppers' health benefits include beliefs that capsaicin — the principal component in chili peppers — is believed to play a role on in obesity prevention and blood flow regulation on the cellular and molecular levels. It also has antimicrobial properties that "may indirectly affect the host by altering the gut microbiota."
Since the days of ancient physicians Galen and Hippocrates, it was thought that pepper and some other spices help restore the humoral imbalances responsible for disease and illness.
This study seeks to make a conclusion once and for all. While participants were hardly a representative sample of the population during the 1988-94 study period, the results were convincingly consistent with earlier, considerably smaller studies. Several other studies support claims that capsaicin can relieve uncomfortable digestive symptoms over time.
As chili pepper-fueled spicy foods continue to get more popular, manufacturers can take advantage of these studies and add health claims to their labels. Hot sauce sales have grown about 150% since 2000, and labeling the peppery condiment as a health food could spice up profits even more.