Chili peppers may protect heart health, but only if you eat enough

Chili peppers, the slim bright red peppers used as an ingredient in many meals and snacks, is known for two things: causing a burning sensation in one's mouth and, potentially, for causing heartburn a while after the food is eaten. Historically, however, this food has been associated with health benefits, a long-standing belief that has seemingly been confirmed by a new study from multiple institutions in Italy.

Chili peppers originate from Mexico but have become a very common and popularly used fruit around the world. Many cultures have historically singled out these peppers as beneficial for health. According to a new study out of Italy, these historic beliefs may be true.

Among more than 22,000 Italian adults, the team found that people who ate chili peppers on a regular basis had a 23-percent lower risk of all-cause mortality. The results were based on self-reported data related to chili pepper consumption. Participants who said they ate chili pepper more than four times per week had lower odds of dying from cardiovascular disease or other 'all-cause' scenarios compared to people who rarely or never ate chili peppers.

In addition, the study found that regularly eating these peppers lowered ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular death risks. These benefits seemed to be more commonly experienced by people who didn't have high blood pressure, according to the researchers. Ultimately, though, these benefits were seen in people who didn't follow a Mediterranean diet and despite risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

With a follow-up period of more than 8 years, the study found people who regularly ate chili peppers had a 40-percent lower risk of dying from a heart attack. The benefits related to cerebrovascular mortality (stroke) were even greater. Given how easily chili peppers can be incorporated into snacks and full meals, the study indicates that prioritizing this food in one's diet may have major health benefits for some people.