Like spicy foods? There’s a good chance you might get to live longer, according to a new study conducted by at the University of Vermont. Researchers found that consumption of hot red chili peppers is associated with a 13 percent reduction in total mortality.

Peppers might be very good for you. Image credits: Paul Morris.

Medical student Mustafa Chopan and Professor of Medicine Benjamin Littenberg analyzed data collected from more than 16,000 Americans who were followed for up to 23 years. Firstly, they created the baseline of the average hot pepper consumer, who tends to be “younger, male, white, Mexican-American, married, and to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and consume more vegetables and meats . . . had lower HDL-cholesterol, lower income, and less education.” Then, they looked for patterns to see what could be correlated with pepper consumption. Again, this is one of those studies which looked for correlations, not causations. In other words, finding a relationship between A and B doesn’t necessarily mean that A causes B.

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What they found is that peppers are associated with a longer lifespan.

“Although the mechanism by which peppers could delay mortality is far from certain, Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels, which are primary receptors for pungent agents such as capsaicin (the principal component in chili peppers), may in part be responsible for the observed relationship,” say the study authors.

It is not the first time such a correlation was found. In 2015, researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health found that people who ate fresh chili had a lower risk of death from cancer, coronary heart disease, and diabetes. There are some possible explanations for this. The prime suspect is capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers which makes them hot. Capsaicin is believed to play a role in cellular and molecular mechanisms that prevent obesity and modulate coronary blood flow. However, commenting on Reddit, study author Benjamin Littenberg added a few things about their work:

  1.  We showed association, not causality.
  2. The association is probably not due to due to simple random error.
  3. It is probably not due to confounding by the social and lifestyle factors we were able to adjust for.
  4. It could be due to some other factor that we couldn’t measure (or can’t even imagine!) that is associated with both pepper consumption and mortality.
  5. Even if it is a true causal relationship, the study doesn’t say much about the potential mechanisms. Capsaicin is a possibility, but there are many others.
  6.  Even if it is a true causal relationship, that doesn’t mean that if you start eating more hot red chili peppers, you will live longer.

He also commented on the different strains of hot peppers, adding that they likely have a different effect on the body:

“It is entirely possible (even likely) that different types/strengths/preparations of peppers have different effects. The data we used did not distinguish among them.”

Journal reference: PLoS ONE