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A Spicy Route to a Longer Life

The more spicy foods you eat, the longer you’re likely to live compared to folks whose diets lack fiery ingredients like chili peppers. A team of Harvard researchers looked into the question of whether or not spicy foods had any influence on the risk of death among some 199,000 men and 288,000 women ages 30 through 79 who lived in 10 regions of China. None had a history of cancer, heart disease or stroke when the study began. The team surveyed the participants’ diet and health histories between 2004 and 2008. After seven years of follow up, results indicated that regular consumption of spicy foods was linked to decreased chances of dying during the study. Eating spicy foods once or twice a week was associated with a 10 percent decline in the overall risk for death compared to consuming spicy foods less than once a week. Consuming spicy foods even more often - between three and seven days a week - was linked to a risk of death 14 percent lower than the others in the study. Fresh chili peppers in particular were associated with a lower incidence of dying from cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The researchers noted that while the study didn’t prove cause and effect, it did show an association between spicy foods and a lower risk of death.

My take: This is good news for those of us who enjoy spicy foods. Earlier studies have indicated that capsaicin, a compound in chili peppers that gives it its heat, is a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent and may enhance the metabolism of fat. Red chili peppers also have been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Most varieties are high in vitamin C, a potential cancer fighter. Here in the American Southwest, chili peppers and cayenne are staples. Many healthy traditional cuisines incorporate chili pepper into both savory and sweet dishes - and it's a delicious addition to hot chocolate. 

Chili Peppers for Colon Health?

Capsaicin, a natural compound found in hot peppers (it's what gives them their heat), is an effective local anesthetic, and may be good for our hearts and blood vessels as well because it lowers cholesterol (although we don't yet know how). And now new research suggests that capsaicin can also reduce the risk of colorectal tumors, at least in mice. The compound seems to work by activating TRPV1, a receptor in cells that form the lining in mouse (and human) intestines, leading to a reaction that helps reduce risk from tumors. The study, from the University of California, San Diego, found that feeding capsaicin to mice prone to gastrointestinal tract tumors reduced the growths and extended the lives of the mice by more than 30 percent. The treatment may work in humans, too. Study leader Eyal Raz said the new findings suggest that “individuals at high risk of developing recurrent intestinal tumors may benefit from chronic TRPV1 activation. We have provided proof of principle.” Another member of the team added that future studies should be designed to explore the association between TRPV1 function and human colorectal cancer.

Eyal Raz et al, Ion channel TRPV1-dependent activation of PTP1B suppresses EGFR-associated intestinal tumorigenesis” The Journal of Clinical Investigation on August 1, 2014 doi: 10.1172/JCI72340