Certain foods and beverages often make the news when research links them to preserving health and extending life. A pair of favorites to get such attention recently are chili peppers and coffee. Besides Mexican mochas, what do chili peppers and coffee have in common that could lead researchers to suggest they have anti-aging properties?
Chronic low-grade inflammation is usually present along with age-associated diseases such as cardiovascular, diabetes and dementia that degrade quality of life and longevity. A pair of recent studies suggests compounds that inhibit this chronic low-grade inflammation are abundant in both chili peppers and coffee.
Coffee and inflammation
Stanford scientists have published a study in Nature Medicine investigating aging, inflammation, cardiovascular disease and coffee consumption. To get their findings, they analyzed blood samples, survey data and medical/family histories of more than 100 participants. They zeroed in on breakdown products of nucleic acids —the building blocks of genes circulating in the blood, which have been identified as one of the triggers of chronic low-grade inflammation.
Those with the lowest levels of these breakdown products had the highest levels of coffee metabolites, including caffeine, theophylline (also found in tea) and theobromine (abundant in chocolate.) They went further, finding that when immune cells were incubated with nucleic acid metabolites, introducing coffee metabolites into the medium protected the cells from inflammation.
Chili pepper protection
Chili peppers get their intense heat from a substance called capsaicin. Capsaicin is a potent inhibitor of substance P, a signaling molecule that influences the activity of the brain and the body associated with inflammation. The more capsaicin, the hotter the chili pepper.
In their investigation of chili peppers and inflammation, researchers from the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont analyzed data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) III that followed 16,000 Americans for up to 23 years.
Among the findings, published in the journal PLoS One, those who ate the most chili peppers were more likely to smoke and drink, show lower HDL “good” cholesterol and have lower income and less education. Yet despite those risk factors, eating chili peppers was associated with a 13 percent reduction in risk of death from heart disease or stroke.
Have a Mexican mocha
You won’t often find coffee and chili peppers paired together in a meal. But a Mexican mocha, a blend of coffee and cream with a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon and nutmeg, with 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper stirred in could be an interesting way to try both at once.