A certain compound in chile peppers may be responsible for its health benefits.
  • A large new study of Italian adults found that eating chilli pepper four times a week significantly reduces the risk of fatal diseases.
  • The pungent pepper reduced the overall risk of fatal illness by up to 23%, and cut the risk of stroke by nearly 50%.
  • Capsaicin, the active compound in hot peppers that creates the spicy sensation, has been found in previous research to have a myriad of health benefits, including boosting metabolism and lowering blood pressure.
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Adding some spice to your life might also add a few years, according to new research.

The pungent, fiery chilli pepper can help reduce the risk of dying from major medical problems like heart attack and stroke, according to a new study published December 16 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. If eaten regularly, it could lower your risk of death by all chronic illnesses by as much as 23%.

For the study, researchers at the Mediterranean Neurological Institute in Pozzilli, Italy, looked at 22,811 Italian men and women who were 35 years old or older and who had tracked their health and eating habits in a regional health study over an average period of eight years.

The researchers found that people who consumed meals containing chillis at least four times a week had up to a 40% lower risk of dying of heart attack, and a nearly 50% lower risk of dying of a stroke or other brain condition.

Although it's not yet clear what makes hot peppers so good for disease prevention, capsaicin, a compound that causes the mild burning sensation of spicy foods in small doses, seems to play a role. In large amounts, capsaicin can be painful and even toxic, but the low doses found in peppers can stimulate nerves and boost metabolism, aid digestion, and lower blood pressure.

People who ate chilli peppers had better health regardless of the rest of their diets

In the study, researchers found that fans of spicy chillis had better health compared to people who didn't eat them - even if other parts of their diet were less healthy. And, even people with other risk factors for chronic illness, such as diabetes, hypertension, or a family history of heart problems, enjoyed health benefits from eating chillis, according to the study.

In other words, the health benefits in the study weren't just due to other lifestyle factors, such as the Mediterranean diet, which is widely known to be among the best for a long, healthy life.

"Someone can follow the healthy Mediterranean diet, someone else can eat less healthily, but for all of them chilli pepper has a protective effect," lead author Marialaura Bonaccio, an epidemiologist at the Mediterranean Neurological Institute, said in a press release.

The study - conducted in collaboration with researchers from the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome, the University of Insubria in Varese, and the Mediterranean Cardiocentro in Naples - is the first of its kind to look at chilli peppers is the Mediterranean, where they are a common and important part of food and culture. However, previous research has found protective health benefits of hot peppers in the U.S. and China as well.

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