While the links between diet and overall health are well-documented, research into specific benefits of common foods has revealed some surprising discoveries. Just last year, a separate study found that cinnamon can actually improve learning in mice through increasing neural plasticity. More recently, researchers from the University of Vermont have found that there is a strange link between the consumption of spicy peppers and decreased mortality rates.
The researchers studied National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) III data gathered from 16,000 Americans for up to 23 years, tracking their dietary intake and overall health. According to their data published in PLOS One, the researchers found a statistically significant correlation between eating spicy peppers and lower chances of dying prematurely from any cause:
In this large prospective study, we observed an inverse relationship between hot red chili pepper consumption and all-cause mortality, after adjusting for potential confounders. Adults who consumed hot red chili peppers had a 13% lower hazard of death, compared to those who did not.
The exact mechanism by which spicy foods might prolong life are not understood at this time, although the research suggests it might have something to do with capsaicin, the compound found in peppers which causes the sensation of heat.
Aside from the mouth's pain receptors, capsaicin also binds to receptors known as Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels found in cell membranes. Activation of these channels can trigger many beneficial physiological effects:
Activation of TRP vanilloid type 1 (TRPV1) appears to stimulate cellular mechanisms against obesity, by altering mediators of lipid catabolism and thermogenesis. Protection against obesity leads to decreased risk of cardiovascular, metabolic and lung diseases. Capsaicin may also defend against heart disease via a TRP-mediated modulation of coronary blood flow.
The researchers are quick to note that this study is far from perfect, and that even though this statistical link has been found, it could be a classic case of the ol’ correlation without causation. However, given that a 2015 Chinese study found the exact same result, there is hope that my wife just let me keep the entire door of the fridge for my hot sauce collection. I just need some variety, ok? Sriracha gets old after a while.