Eating this vegetable can dramatically reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack

Adding a little spice to your life may be the key to living longer. Literally. A new report finds that chili peppers can have a dramatic effect on your heart health.

After the study’s lead author, Marialaura Bonaccio, an epidemiologist at the Mediterranean Neurological Institute, analyzed data from 23,000 residents of Italy, she concluded that eating chili peppers at least four times a week can reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack by 40% and your risk of dying from a stroke by more than 50%.  From the report:

“The notion that minor dietary changes, such as adding chilies to the usual diet, could be valuable measures for improving health, especially cardiovascular health, independent of overall diet quality.”

A novel meta-analysis

Bonaccio and her team began their research by analyzing data achieved via the Moli-San study, which ran from 2005 to 2010. The Moli-San report itself contained medical data from 25,000 citizens occupying the Moilise area of southern Italy, a region that habitually uses chili peppers in many of their standard meals. After recruitment, the participants involved in the meta-analysis were examined over the course of eight years. The experts took note of their eating patterns and kept track of any health concerns that appeared during the study period. 

Not only was it determined that eating chili peppers at least four times a week carried a substantial risk decrease for stoke and cardiovascular related mortality, but the following health benefits were also concurrently noted in the new paper:

  • All-cause mortality
  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality
  • Ischemic heart disease mortality
  • Cerebrovascular death

Overall diet didn’t bear any discernible impact on these findings.  Bonaccio, adds:

“An interesting fact is that protection from mortality risk was independent of the type of diet people followed. 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 intimations published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, were at once boosted and limited by the cuisine norms observed by the participants.  Because no biochemical mechanisms were successfully established some critics have said that the results might have more to do with general diet markers as opposed to chili peppers specifically. 

As noted by a registered dietitian and senior teaching fellow at Aston Medical School in the UK, Duane Mellor, people that frequently use chili peppers in their meals, likely also incorporate an assortment of other healthy spices and herbs, saying nothing of other relevant factors like gender, age and preexisting health conditions.

“Established biomarkers of CVD did not substantially modify the relation between chili pepper and mortality, although a marginal role was played by serum vitamin D levels and biomarkers of lipid metabolism, explaining 6.1% and 5.3% of the association with all-cause mortality, respectively,” the authors wrote.

As previously covered by Ladders, the peoples of the Mediterranean and The Blue Zone are known for their longevity and their strict adherence to plant-based diets. Limiting meat intake has also been independently linked to heart health and overall vitality.

The authors themselves concede that  the healthier pepper-eaters tended to be educated denizens that employed a version of the Mediterranean diet. Ian Johnson, a nutrition researcher at Quadram Institute Bioscience, voiced a similar limitation concern to CNN, writing, “This type of relationship suggests that chilies may be just a marker for some other dietary or lifestyle factor that hasn’t been accounted for but, to be fair, this kind of uncertainty is usually present in epidemiological studies, and the authors do acknowledge this,”

Bonaccio and her colleges intend to conduct more research in order to find out what role chili peppers have to play in their findings. As it stands, the peppers themselves either account for stroke and heart attack risk decrease all on their own, or including chili peppers to food groups already studied to contribute to a healthy heart sees people eat them more often than they would otherwise.