The substances that give chili peppers their intensity when ingested or applied topically and their several related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids kill cancer cells and may even extend lifespan.
Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BC. The most recent research shows that chili peppers were domesticated more than 6000 years ago in Mexico, and were one of the first self-pollinating crops cultivated in Mexico, Central and parts of South America.
India is now the world's largest producer, consumer and exporter of chili peppers.
Red chilies contain large amounts of vitamin C and small amounts of carotene (provitamin A). Yellow and especially green chilies (which are essentially unripe fruit) contain a considerably lower amount of both substances. In addition, peppers are a good source of most B vitamins, and vitamin B6 in particular.
They are very high in potassium, magnesium, and iron. Their very high vitamin C content can also substantially increase the uptake of non-heme iron from other ingredients in a meal, such as beans and grains.
Past research suggested that spicing food with chilies can lower blood pressure in people with that condition, reduce blood cholesterol and ease the tendency for dangerous blood clots to form.
Researchers in Korea recently published evidence that suggests the mechanisms behind why capsaicin may aid weight loss.
Spicing up your daily diet with some red pepper can also curb appetite, especially for those who don't normally eat the popular spice, according to research from Purdue University.
The component that gives jalapeno peppers their heat may also kill prostate cancer cells.
Scientists have also reported that chili peppers are a heart-healthy food with potential to protect against the No. 1 cause of death in the developed world.
Treatment of the tumour-prone mice with capsaicin has now been shown to reduce tumour burden and extended the lifespans of the mice by over 30%. "This may be translated to humans to a certain extent but further research will be necessary to quantify gene expression," said Dr. Henry Peterson commenting on the study.
Research published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, said the active ingredient produced chronic activation of a receptor, TRPV1, on cells lining the intestines of mice genetically modified to be TRPV1-deficient, which in turn triggered the reaction.
"Our data also suggested that TRPV1 triggering by dietary administration of capsaicin suppressed intestinal tumourigenesis," the researchers said.
As a result they recommended the administration of TRPV1 agonists like capsaicin in combination with celecoxib, a COX-2 non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that treats some forms of arthritis and pain.
The receptor or ion channel TRPV1 was originally discovered in sensory neurons, where it acts as a guard against heat, acidity and chemicals in the environment. This latest research found that the receptor was also expressed by intestinal epithelial cells.
The scientists discovered that TRPV1 works as a tumor suppressor in the intestines through a "feedback loop" with the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), reducing the risk of unwanted growth.
Dr Petrus de Jong, one of the study's authors, said: "A basic level of EGFR activity is required to maintain the normal cell turnover in the gut. However, if EGFR signaling is left unrestrained, the risk of sporadic tumor development increases."
Professor Eyal Raz, another of the study's authors, said: "Our data suggest that individuals at high risk of developing recurrent intestinal tumors may benefit from chronic TRPV1 activation."
"We have provided proof-of-principle."