Hillary Clinton's Elixir: Can A Hot Pepper A Day Boost Immunity?
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We often fact check substantive policy statements from presidential candidates. Now we're going to fact check something a little bit less serious. To stay healthy on the campaign trail, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton eats fresh jalapeno peppers. I asked her about that in an interview yesterday, and she gave us the back story.
HILLARY CLINTON: Back when my husband was running in '92, I read an article about the special immune boosting (laughter) characteristics of hot peppers and I thought, well, that's interesting because, you know, campaigning is pretty demanding and so I started adding hot peppers.
SHAPIRO: So a daily jalapeno as a way to boost the immune system? We asked NPR's Allison Aubrey to look into it.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: When it comes to hot peppers, I'm kind of a wimp. I owned up to this on this show a few years back when Audie Cornish and I went head to head in a hot sauce taste off. Here's me tasting one sauce that seemed hot to me but not to her.
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AUBREY: OK, there's a little kick but my mouth is not on fire so I'm - so far so good.
AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: There's not really any kick here, Allison, but...
AUBREY: OK. (Laughter). You'll let me know when we get to that part?
So I'm not one to chow down on raw jalapeno peppers every day as Hillary Clinton does, but maybe I'm missing out on something that could keep me healthy.
JOHN HAYES: It's not an entirely crazy idea.
AUBREY: That's John Hayes. He teaches food science at Penn State and he has a special interest in chili peppers.
HAYES: It's certainly possible that some of the compounds found in chili peppers could be protective of health.
AUBREY: Hayes says peppers are loaded with vitamins and a bunch of other beneficial compounds, as are many plant-based foods. But he says peppers also contain something that's pretty unique.
HAYES: The most famous compound in chiles specifically is a chemical called capsaicin, which causes that burning, warming sensation in the mouth.
AUBREY: Now, lab studies show that capsaicin has both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. And to begin to understand whether the capsaicin pepper-lovers get from foods has a measurable impact on health, an international team of researchers recently did a huge study. They asked about a half-million people in China about their eating habits over seven years. Then they compared the health of people who ate lots of chili peppers with those who ate peppers very infrequently. The results were published in the British Medical Journal last summer, and John Hayes says he was intrigued.
HAYES: It found that repeated consumption, regular consumption of chili and chili-containing foods decrease the risk of premature death.
AUBREY: Decreased it by about 14 percent if people ate spicy foods almost every day. Now, this study is not proof that chiles boost health. It could be that people who like chili peppers have other habits that protect them. But the study does suggest that Hillary Clinton's practice of eating of a raw pepper each day could be beneficial. So maybe she's on to something?
ARIC PRATHER: She may be.
AUBREY: But still, whatever good may come from a daily pepper, who knows if it could trump all the potentially unhealthy habits that come along with life on the campaign trail. Aric Prather is a psychologist at UC San Francisco. He says just watching candidates, such as Hillary Clinton, it doesn't seem like they get much chance to relax.
PRATHER: I think she has some serious stressors that might get into her sleep time.
AUBREY: Prather studies how daily habits influence the likelihood of sickness, and he says what's clear is that too little sleep and prolonged stress can increase the odds of getting sick immensely. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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