The chili pepper is a common ingredient in Italian kitchens. In addition to adding flavor, more evidence is mounting that it adds health benefits as well. The latest confirmation comes from researchers in Italy who have determined the risk of dying from a heart attack is cut by 40 percent among those who consume chili peppers on a regular basis.
Additionally, the report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology states all-cause mortality is 23 percent lower for pepper eaters when compared to people who do not regularly eat chili peppers.
The study was conducted by the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention of I.R.C.C.S. Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy, in collaboration with the Department of Oncology and Molecular Medicine of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome, the University of Insubria in Varese and the Mediterranean Cardiocentro in Naples.
Researchers tracked the health status and eating habits of more than 22,000 citizens of the Molise region in Italy in what was called the Moli-sani study. They found people who regularly consumed chili peppers, which they determined was four or more times per week, also cut the risk for cerebrovascular mortality, which includes stroke, aneurysms and other issues related to the brain, by more than half.
"An interesting fact is that protection from mortality risk was independent of the type of diet people followed,” said Marialaura Bonaccio, Neuromed epidemiologist. “In other words, someone can follow the healthy Mediterranean diet, someone else can eat less healthily, but for all of them, chili pepper has a protective effect."
The Moli-sani study is the first study of its kind in Europe. It was designed to explore the therapeutic properties of the chili pepper in relation to the risk of death in Mediterranean populations.
"Chili pepper is a fundamental component of our food culture,” researcher Licia Iacoviello said. “We see it hanging on Italian balconies, and even depicted in jewels. Over the centuries, beneficial properties of all kinds have been associated with its consumption, mostly on the basis of anecdotes or traditions, if not magic. It is important now that research deals with it in a serious way, providing rigor and scientific evidence. And now, as already observed in China and in the United States, we know that the various plants of the capsicum species, although consumed in different ways throughout the world, can exert a protective action toward health."
Scientists pointed out more work needs to be done to understand the biochemical process through with the chili pepper and other capsaicin-containing foods provide protection but the news is good so far for those who like a little spice in their foods.