Could the "no pain, no gain" mantra also apply to what we eat (or apply to our skin)? While not proven that spicy peppers will improve one's health, multiple scientific studies are beginning to draw some interesting connections between the spicy pepper and our health. With benefits ranging from increased longevity to a reduced incidence of certain ailments potentially being uncovered.
Before diving-in on what the studies are showing, it's noteworthy to acknowledge the nutritional contributions peppers make to a healthy diet. They're a good source of Vitamins C (twice the amount found in citrus fruits), B6, K1, A as well as potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper and dietary fiber. While they have plenty of the good stuff, they're also low in the bad stuff, notably sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat.
When it comes to spicy peppers, it's the capsaicinoids that grab the headlines. After all, it's what gives chiles the heat that they're famous (infamous) for! Capsaicinoid compounds are antioxidant carotenoids, which are generally helpful in removing free radicals from the body and are believed by many to lower risk of infection and some forms of cancer.
Though, the capsaicinoids are only one of seven antioxidants commonly found in spicy peppers. The others – capsanthin, violaxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin, sinapic acid, and ferulic acid. Overall, peppers are a great source of antioxidants, though, these amounts are significantly higher in the mature peppers (red, orange, yellow), than in the unripened green fruit.
Two studies have shown that people who eat spicy peppers tend to live longer. While neither study has established a connection to how this happens, or even if they're sure it's the spicy peppers that are directly responsible for the increase in longevity, it's very interesting that each study came to the same conclusion.
A study of residents in China found that men and women who consume spicy foods statistically have a higher probability of living longer than non-consumers. The study also found that the more times a week spicy food was consumed, the higher their likelihood of living longer.
Another study on United States adults analyzed data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey found those who consumed hot red chile peppers exhibited a mortality rate that was 12% below those who did not eat spicy chiles. When adjusted for demographic, lifestyle, and clinical characteristics, the consumption of hot red chile peppers was associated with a 13% reduction in the instantaneous hazard of death.
Eating spicy food potentially gives a whole new meaning to "burning calories." Could that burning sensation also be causing other physiological responses that assist in weight loss? A 2016 study found that chile peppers contain substances that significantly increase thermogenesis (heat production) and fat metabolism. Concluding that consumption of chiles can help in accelerating weight loss through dietary modifications.
A similar study researched the affect of capsaicin making body expend more energy and thus burn calories helped to confirm the above results, stating "capsaicin is an interesting target for anti-obesity therapy."
Applying spicy peppers to the skin – intentionally! Anyone who's sliced or diced spicy peppers, probably has a story to share about inadvertently touching another part of their body and their associated agony.
People who regularly eat spicy food, over time, develop a higher tolerance for the heat. Likewise, over time the skin usually adapts to reduce the perceived burning sensation.
Though, be sure to see the "A Cause for Concern?" section below to get both sides of this story as it relates to topical application.
A number of clinical drugs are either based upon or similar to other naturally occurring compounds. Many research studies use naturally occurring molecular combinations as an inspiration to uncover what heals or protects the body. For example, many believe that we've only scratched the surface of the potential health benefits the mushroom family has to offer.
Could the capsaicinoid proteins and/or the other antioxidants found in hot peppers be among of these intriguing substances where our understanding of their benefits is only beginning to take shape. A few scientific studies offer supporting evidence...
Like anything else, there's potentially two sides to the story. There also have been a few studies that point to potential pitfalls that could be related to consuming chile peppers.
Like the other studies presented, these studies didn't show that consumption/use of chile peppers caused these ailments. Only that a statistical connection existed between the consumption/use of chiles to the outcomes in those studies.
For us, the most concerning of the risk assessment studies was the Mexico City study that observed a statistical connection between chile consumption and gastric cancer. While concerning, the study implied that people who moderated their intake, even among those who ate them frequently, fared significantly better than those who described themselves as heavy chile pepper consumers.
From our perspective, the pros outweigh the cons. One, they're rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Secondly, the two longevity studies, to us, provides the strongest argument as they would seem to factor all the variables into a single outcome. Those two independent studies, conducted on two different continents, found that people who eat spicy food/chiles tend to live longer.
Furthermore, the longevity study conducted in China observed that people who eat spicy food more often tended to live longest. It's interesting that in the Mexico City study, that the frequency of intake didn't affect risk, but the level of consumption did. Perhaps more often is better than more, and moderation is best. Hmmm... Where have we heard that before?
That works for us! Enjoy responsibly.