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October 2015

Add a Little Spice, Live a Little Longer

Some people shy away from spicy foods, while others savor them. If you can’t take the heat, you may want to prime your taste buds. A recent study suggests regularly eating spicy foods—in particular, chili peppers—may lengthen your life.

Red chili peppers

The spiciness of life

In BMJ, researchers set out to see if eating spicy foods every day might be linked to greater longevity. They first surveyed nearly 500,000 adults about their eating habits. Study participants answered questions about their diet, including how often they ate spicy foods and what kinds.

With the survey results in hand, the researchers then followed the health of study participants over an average of 7 years. Their analysis revealed that adults who ate spicy foods almost every day were 14% less likely to die during the study period. Foods with a fiery kick seemed to work against diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and respiratory problems. Fresh chili peppers supplied the biggest lifespan boost.

The power of peppers

Chili peppers were first cultivated in Central and South America. But the fruit is now found worldwide. Peppers of all kinds of heat are a staple in countries as far away as India and China.

Because of their spice, though, chili peppers may not make everyone’s superfood list. Yet they have some serious nutritional power. These fruits are filled with vitamins A and C. They also contain a phytochemical called capsaicin. Phytochemicals are substances made by plants.

Capsaicin gives peppers their spiciness. And it may do much more. Past research suggests it may improve heart health. In animal studies, it’s been shown to lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels. It may also help with weight loss by suppressing appetite. Contrary to popular thought, capsaicin may aid with digestion, too. It may prevent and even heal ulcers. What’s more, skin patches with capsaicin are sometimes used to ease pain.

 

Ready to turn on the heat? Try this recipe, which features jalapeño peppers.

 

4 more powerful edibles

Capsaicin is only one of many phytochemicals in plant-based foods. Also known as polyphenols or antioxidants, these chemicals may help bolster human health by fending off disease.

Here are 4 other edibles that may have strong phytochemical powers:

  • Garlic. This plant bulb has long been touted for its medicinal qualities. Research suggests it may help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. It may also keep away cancer.

  • Cinnamon. This spice has been linked to lower blood sugar levels. It may help people with diabetes better manage their disease. But studies have been mixed on its effectiveness.

  • Sage. This herb has traditionally been used to soothe a sore throat. Some small studies have also shown it may boost mood and memory.

  • Turmeric. A relative of ginger, this spice may help with heartburn. Plus, it contains the phytochemical curcumin, which may fight inflammation and cancer.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2015
© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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