Adding Spice to your Meals and Your Health

Recent studies show that chile peppers can be a boon to your health. Dr. Zipes lays out the details.

Dried chili peppers
(Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock)

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Sometimes you can get huge benefits from small changes. For example, a recent study suggests you can reduce the risk of heart disease by eating chile peppers.

Chile peppers are a common ingredient in the Mediterranean diet but may be more important than previously considered. In a study of almost 23,000 men and women, regular consumption of chile peppers was associated with a lower risk of total death and death from heart disease independent of cardiovascular risk factors or adherence to a Mediterranean diet.

The benefits of eating chile peppers have been ascribed to capsaicin, its major pungent compound. Capsaicin can improve cardiovascular function and metabolic regulation and exert anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, but the exact beneficial action remains unknown, and none of the biological mechanisms tested could explain the health benefits. However, it is not unusual in medicine for the benefits of a substance to precede understanding how it works. For example, the health benefits of penicillin were known long before we understood how it killed bacteria.

Speaking of heart disease, I was surprised to learn recently that half of individuals in the U.S. are unaware of the constellation of common signs and symptoms of a heart attack. That’s unfortunate; prompt recognition is critical to seeking emergency care that can save a life. Delay in seeking help increases the risk of dying.

So, remember the big five: 1) chest pain or discomfort, 2) shortness of breath, 3) pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder, 4) feeling weak, faint, or lightheaded, and 5) jaw, neck, or back pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 and seek medical aid promptly. (Of course, several of these also could be indications of COVID-19.) Shortness of breath, weakness, or lightheadedness accompanied by fever may be sign of viral infection.

Don’t forget: moderation in all things, including moderation.

Don’t miss “Your Weekly Checkup” by Dr. Douglas Zipes for updates on medical breakthroughs and advice on healthy living at

This article is featured in the July/August 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock

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