Fans of spicy food take note, as well as scalding your taste buds, all those tongue-tingling chillies might also be helping you live longer.

After analysing data on more than 16,000 Americans over a 23-year period, researchers at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont have found that eating hot red chilli peppers was linked with a lower risk of death.

The study only showed a correlation between chillies and reduced mortality, rather than proving a causal link between the two, but the results were still striking.

Over the period analysed, the total mortality of those who ate chilli peppers was 21.6%, compared to 33.6% amongst those who shunned spicy food, a difference of 12%.

When adjusted for other factors, the research found the difference to be 13%, a glowing endorsement of the potential power of chillies. The difference was largely due to a reduction in deaths caused by heart disease or stoke.

Interestingly, other common characteristics amongst the chilli eaters were not all that healthy. They were more likely to smoke and drink alcohol, and had lower HDL-cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) levels than those who didn’t eat spicy chillies.

The method by which chillies could aid health is not proven, but capsaicin – the active ingredient in chillies that makes them spicy – has been linked with positive health outcomes in the past by other studies.

We’re not at the stage where ditching your favourite creamy korma for a vindaloo becomes a government dietary recommendation, but the signs are there that a little spice in your food is no bad thing. So next time you overdo the spice and have to down a pint of milk in a desperate bid to quench the fire on your tongue, just remember that it’s probably doing you good in the long run.

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