BACKGROUND: Chili pepper is a usual part of a traditional Mediterranean diet. Yet epidemiological data on the association between chili pepper intake and mortality risk are scarce, with a lack of studies from Mediterranean populations.
OBJECTIVES: This study sought to examine the association between chili pepper consumption and risk of death in a large sample of the adult Italian general population, and to account for biological mediators of the association.
METHODS: Longitudinal analysis was performed on 22,811 men and women enrolled in the Moli-sani Study cohort (2005 to 2010). Chili pepper intake was estimated by the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer) Food Frequency Questionnaire and categorized as none/rare consumption, up to 2 times/week, >2 to ≤4 times/week, and >4 times/week.
RESULTS: Over a median follow-up of 8.2 years, a total of 1,236 deaths were ascertained. Multivariable hazard ratios (HRs) for all-cause and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality among participants in the regular (>4 times/week) relative to none/rare intake were 0.77 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.66 to 0.90) and 0.66 (95% CI: 0.50 to 0.86), respectively. Regular intake was also inversely associated with ischemic heart disease (HR: 0.56; 95% CI: 0.35 to 0.87) and cerebrovascular (HR: 0.39; 95% CI: 0.20 to 0.75) death risks. The association of chili pepper consumption with total mortality appeared to be stronger in hypertension-free individuals (p for interaction = 0.021). Among known biomarkers of CVD, only serum vitamin D marginally accounted for such associations.
CONCLUSIONS: In a large adult Mediterranean population, regular consumption of chili pepper is associated with a lower risk of total and CVD death independent of CVD risk factors or adherence to a Mediterranean diet. Known biomarkers of CVD risk only marginally mediate the association of chili pepper intake with mortality.