Eating chile peppers may help you live longer and reduce your risk of dying from heart disease and cancer.
Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic reviewed data from more than 570,000 people in the United States, Italy, China, and Iran. They found that people who eat chile peppers may be 26 percent less likely to die from heart disease and 23 percent less likely to die from cancer compared to spice-averse people.
This news comes in contrast to previous studies that have shown a positive correlation between consuming red chile peppers and occurrence of certain types of cancer, including gall bladder, stomach, throat, and mouth cancer.
However, this data comes from animal studies and observational methods, so cause and effect can’t be exclusively determined.
The Cleveland Clinic’s review also found chile pepper consumers have a 25 percent reduced risk of death from any cause.
“The multiple benefits and the magnitude of their benefits are striking,” said Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD, RDN, Evan Pugh University professor of nutritional sciences and chair for the Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health.
However, it’s important to note that it’s not the chile peppers themselves but rather the capsaicin they produce that helps reduce risk.
“Capsaicin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties, offering potentially protective benefits for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity,” said Mary-Jon Ludy, PhD, RDN, FAND, an associate professor in the department of nutrition at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
Capsaicin is also what gives peppers their heat and spice profiles.
“The scope of this research — including more than half a million participants from four countries on three continents — is very commendable,” Ludy said.
Potential downsides of eating chile peppers
The drawbacks of eating hot peppers also come from their capsaicin content.
Capsaicin binds to the pain receptors in your mouth, causing the characteristic burning sensation we associate with spicy foods.
“Readers may wish to incorporate chile peppers in their diet,” Kris-Etherton said. “However, I suggest they do this wisely… go slowly.”
She advised against going overboard on eating chile peppers because consuming too many may cause problems.
Experts say eating too much capsaicin can lead to irritation of the mouth, stomach, and intestines.
“People may develop vomiting and diarrhea. Inhaling sprays containing capsaicin can cause coughing, difficulty breathing, production of tears, nausea, nasal irritation, and temporary blindness,” Kris-Etherton said.
Expert advice on adding chile peppers to your diet
“Chile peppers are great for growing in garden beds during the summer or indoor containers year-round,” Ludy said. This way, you’ll always have access to fresh or freshly dried peppers.
You can use chile peppers as seasoning in foods instead of salt. Consider sprinkling them onto vegetables, adding into soups and stews, and using in marinades or dry rubs for lean protein foods.
“Fresh and dried chile peppers can be eaten in a variety of ways,” Ludy said.
“Cooks can use chile peppers to season vegetables, stir-fries, soups, sauces, and curries,” she told Healthline.
“Diners can simply add chile pepper flakes to pastas, pizzas, or salads at the kitchen table,” Ludy said.
“For those who don’t enjoy the burn, pairing chile peppers with healthy fats (like avocados and nuts) can help since capsaicin is a fat-soluble compound,” she said.
Should you take a supplement?
The best way to add capsaicin into your diet is to eat a variety of capsaicin-producing peppers, experts say.
“I recommend that people eat chile peppers as chile peppers that are incorporated in their diets, and not as chile pepper supplements or capsaicin supplements,” Kris-Etherton said.
Ludy’s answer on whether to use capsaicin supplements is also a clear no.
Ludy said the research on capsaicin and weight management has shown that mixing chile peppers into a meal can burn more fat.