A new study claims eating chilli peppers can help lower the risk of a fatal heart attack.

Regular consumption of the spicy item is associated with a reduction of death risk for cardiac and cerebrovascular causes.

People who eat chilli peppers four times a week have a mortality risk for every cause reduced by 23%, compared with those who do not, according to the study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

A total of 22,811 citizens of the Molise region, in Italy, participated in the study and over a follow-up period of around eight years, scientists found the risk of dying of a heart attack was reduced by 40% in those who regularly ate the fruit.

Marialaura Bonaccio, epidemiologist at Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy, said: "An interesting fact is that protection from mortality risk was independent of the type of diet people followed.

"In other words, someone can follow the healthy Mediterranean diet, someone else can eat less healthily, but for all of them chilli pepper has a protective effect."

Licia Iacoviello, director of the department of epidemiology and prevention, said: "Chilli pepper is a fundamental component of our food culture. We see it hanging on Italian balconies, and even depicted in jewels.

"Over the centuries, beneficial properties of all kinds have been associated with its consumption, mostly on the basis of anecdotes or traditions, if not magic.

"It is important now that research deals with it in a serious way, providing rigour and scientific evidence.

"And now, as already observed in China and in the United States, we know that the various plants of the capsicum species, although consumed in different ways throughout the world, can exert a protective action towards our health."

However, Dr Duane Mellor, registered dietitian and senior teaching fellow at Aston University, wasn't quite so convinced.

He said: "This is an interesting paper exploring potential associations between chilli consumption and risk of heart disease and stroke.

"It does not show a causal link, and hints that those who were following a more traditional Mediterranean diet seemed to benefit less than those not following this type of diet.

"This could suggest it is how chillies are used as part of an overall dietary pattern and lifestyle.
"It is plausible people who use chillies, as the data suggests, also used more herbs and spices, and as such likely to be eating more fresh foods including vegetables.

"So, although chillies can be a tasty addition to our recipes and meals, any direct effect is likely to be small and it is more likely that it makes eating other healthy foods more pleasurable."