Chili peppers: From fighting cancer to preventing heart disease, here’s 6 health benefits of this spicy favorite

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Chili peppers are one of the most popular ingredients to add some kick to countless recipes. They’re red hot, spicy and add a definite zing. And did you know they’re actually a fruit? For all the culinary reasons we love chili peppers, it turns out there’s even more reason to include them in your meal. It turns out chili peppers provide very powerful health benefits.

StudyFinds has published several studies in recent years showing how consuming chili peppers does much more than leaving you with a satisfied appetite. Among its various perks, the popular food helps battle cancer and can lead to a longer life.

That should be enough right there to send anyone to their grocery store. Nonetheless, here’s a look at six surprising health benefits that chili peppers offer:

Chili pepper compound may help beat aggressive lung cancers

Many people may not know that if it weren’t for the compound capsaicin, chili peppers would taste like any other bland vegetable. Indeed, capsaicin is responsible for the chili pepper’s trademark spice. Now, a study reports capsaicin may be beneficial for lung cancer patients, too.

Researchers report a non-pungent synthetic analog made of capsaicin influenced lung cancer cells in a manner that made them more responsive to treatments. This is of particular note because small cell lung cancer is an especially aggressive variety of cancer with low survival rates.

Capsaicin has shown cancer-fighting promise in the past, but all the spiciness that comes along with it can cause nausea, stomach pain, and burning sensations in some people. Those side-effects won’t be an issue here, though. Researchers used a synthetic capsaicin analog (arvanil) which avoids triggering digestive side-effects instead of genuine capsaicin.

Study authors did not observe any growth-inhibiting activity and exposing two cisplatin-resistant lung cancer cell lines to arvanil. However, when scientists added another ingredient called irinotecan (SN38) to the mix, both substances together “greatly enhanced” the slowing down of cancer cell activity. Even better, irinotecan and arvanil appear to work together “synergistically.”

READ MORE: Capsaicin to the rescue: Chili pepper compound may help beat aggressive lung cancers

Key to long life?

Previous studies have shown that spicy food can have a positive impact on your health. Now, a study released by the American Heart Association has a “hot” take on the topic. Researchers say eating chili pepper isn’t just good for your health, it can help you live longer by reducing heart disease and cancer.

The study finds consuming chili peppers cuts the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 26 percent. The odds of dying from cancer decreased by 23 percent compared to people who don’t include peppers in their diet.

One of the key findings is that chili peppers act as a natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer, and blood-glucose regulator. This is due to the release of capsaicin into an eater’s system. This substance gives a pepper its trademark mild to intense spicy flavor.

“We were surprised to find that in these previously published studies, regular consumption of chili pepper was associated with an overall risk-reduction of all cause, CVD and cancer mortality. It highlights that dietary factors may play an important role in overall health,” says senior author Bo Xu of the Cleveland Clinic’s Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute.“The exact reasons and mechanisms that might explain our findings, though, are currently unknown. Therefore, it is impossible to conclusively say that eating more chili pepper can prolong life and reduce deaths, especially from cardiovascular factors or cancer. More research, especially evidence from randomized controlled studies, is needed to confirm these preliminary findings.”

READ MORE: Eating chili peppers can help you live longer, cut risks for heart disease and cancer

Slows lung cancer development

Spicy food isn’t for everyone. Some people love a little danger with their dinner, while others prefer to play it safe and avoid fiery ingredients like chili peppers. However, a new study finds that chili peppers may have a much more important benefit than making your dinner taste better: the ability to fight lung cancer.

The study out of Marshall University finds that the natural compound responsible for chili peppers’ distinctive hot flavor, capsaicin, may also impede the spread of lung cancer.

Researchers conducted experiments involving three groups of lab-grown human cells and lung cancer cells. Capsaicin effectively prevented the cancer cells from “invading” the other cells. Additionally, mice suffering from metastatic cancer who had consumed capsaicin exhibited smaller amounts of metastatic cancer cells in their lungs compared to cancer-ridden mice who had not eaten any capsaicin.

The study’s authors say capsaicin impedes lung cancer metastasis by suppressing Src, a protein involved in several cellular processes including proliferation and independent movement.

READ MORE: Some like it hot: Study finds chili peppers may slow lung cancer development

Chili peppers help relax stomach aches

If Pepto Bismol or Tums don’t do the trick for you when your belly is brewing, a counterintuitive food might be what you need. Researchers say that both chili peppers and marijuana interact with the same receptors in the stomach to calm an irritated gut.

The study, conducted at the University of Connecticut, involved the research team feeding mice capsaicin — and the very one that creates that spicy burning sensation we associate with chili peppers. They found that the chemical was binding with TRPV1, a certain receptor on cells within the gastrointestinal tract. When this happens, anandamide, a compound chemically comparable to cannabinoids found in marijuana, is created.

Anandamide causes the immune system to calm the gut down, including the esophagus, stomach, and pancreas. The chemical also binds with another receptor to bring in immune cells that counter inflammation.

Mice that were fed capsaicin showed less gut inflammation and were even cured of Type 1 diabetes.

READ MORE: Study: Chili peppers, marijuana help relax ailing stomach

Secret ingredient to beating all forms of cancer

Researchers at Marshall University say capsaicin — the substance which gives chili peppers their hot and spicy taste — can also keep multiple forms of cancer from growing.

The biggest hurdle scientists have to overcome, however, is finding the best way of delivering capsaicin to patients. Researchers say their report is the first to examine sustained release formulations of capsaicin as an anti-cancer drug. These delivery methods include solid dispersion systems, liposomes, phospholipid complexes, and nanoparticles.

The team reports that capsaicin displayed an ability to significantly stifle the growth of a wide range of human cancers. As mentioned earlier, a study of theirs show that the chili pepper compound could serve as a key weapon in the fight against lung cancer. However, the team also finds that giving patients capsaicin in more traditional ways (like pills) has a number of factors working against it. Along with showing a poor ability to absorb into the human body, a capsaicin pill is literally too hot for some patients to handle.

READ MORE: Chili peppers could be the secret ingredient for beating all forms of cancer

Helps curb salt cravings

Trying to cut back on your sodium intake? A study finds that eating spicy foods may increase one’s sensitivity to salt, consequently curbing cravings for high sodium food.

Researchers at Third Military Medical University in China conducted an experiment with 606 Chinese adults, asking whether they preferred their meals to be salty or spicy. Later, the blood pressure levels of participants were measured, and subsequently evaluated against their taste preferences. Participants who indicated a strong affinity for spicy foods were found to not only consume less salt than those who liked them the least, but their systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers were significantly lower.

Previous research had found that capsaicin, the chemical that gives a spicy food its olfactory kick, enhanced how salty a food smelled, but this study went a step further by cementing the link between a food’s spiciness and one’s tendency to reduce salt consumption.

READ MORE: Study: Eating spicy foods helps curb cravings for salt

As always, check with a medical professional before adding chili peppers into your diet or making any notable changes to your daily lifestyle.

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About the Author

Matt Higgins

Matt Higgins worked in national and local news for 15 years. He started out as an overnight production assistant at Fox News Radio in 2007 and ended in 2021 as the Digital Managing Editor at CBS Philadelphia. Following his news career, he spent one year in the automotive industry as a Digital Platforms Content Specialist contractor with Subaru of America and is currently a freelance writer and editor for StudyFinds. Matt believes in facts, science and Philadelphia sports teams crushing his soul.

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  1. 1/4 fresh jalapeno pepper per day helps w/hair growth. So does 5 pumpkin seeds/day, per Dr. Greger.

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