(CN) – People who eat spicy foods may sometimes experience heartburn but, according to a new study, chili peppers are actually a heart-healthy choice.
Italian researchers say that people who regularly consume chili peppers cut down their risk of dying from a heart attack by as much as 40%, according to a study published Monday that details the eating habits of a large group of people over an eight-year period.
The study was conducted by the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention of at Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy.
Marialaura Bonaccio, Neuromed epidemiologist and study author, said the added benefit of chili peppers is separate from a person’s overall diet.
“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,” Bonaccio said in a statement.
Researchers said in their study – published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology – that people who regularly ate chili peppers cut their mortality risk by 23% for numerous ailments or illnesses. The study subjects are citizens of the Molise region that stretches from the Apennines mountains in Italy to the Adriatic Sea.
These spicy-food lovers also cut down their risk of stroke, according to research from the “Moli-sani” study, which started in 2005 and involves 25,000 subjects. The ambitious study is concerned with the environmental and genetic factors that lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer and degenerative pathologies.
Researcher Licia Iacoviello says the chili pepper’s place in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine is associated with anecdotes, traditions and outright magic or folktales.
“It is important now that research deals with it in a serious way, providing rigor and scientific evidence,” Iacoviello said. “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 towards our health”.
The Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed collaborated with the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome, the University of Insubria in Varese and the Mediterranean Cardiocentro in Naples.
While chilis may be heart-healthy, a University of South Australia study published in July warned that a diet rich with spicy foods could lead to dementia. That 15-year study of 4,582 Chinese adults over the age of 55 showed a decline in a person’s cognitive functions among those who ate more than 50 grams of chili daily.