Secret no.27 Chilli peppers

1796297804_1d9622673e_oDaisy McGhee lives in Ohio and at 100 years old remains a keen gardener, growing garlic, potatoes, parsley, onions – and jalapeno peppers. It’s to these that she credits her long life, according to local paper the Star Beacon.

Born in Cleveland, Daisy skipped school because her mother couldn’t afford the textbooks and started work as a maid. She married twice but lost both of her husbands, the second in 1977. She has one son – who she lives next door to – and four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. A rich life then – but surely her fondness for chilli peppers isn’t responsible for the length of it?

Plausibility rating: 6 out of 10. Don’t be so sure. The fiery taste of chilli peppers comes from capsaicin, which is also found in cayenne pepper. Its strength is measured on the Scoville scale – pure capsaicin scores 16 million on the scale and the hottest pepper – the alarmingly named Carolina Reaper – scores around two million units. Daisy’s jalapenos are much, much milder – perhaps 20,000 units at most- but enough to pack a bit of a punch.

Capsaicin doesn’t just give peppers their taste though. It has well-established pain relief properties and is used to treat conditions such as arthritis. It may also aid longevity: one study – admittedly on mice – suggests that the pain-relieving qualities of capsaicin can also extend lifespan by 14 percent. A more recent study points to benefits for humans too. The study used extensive questionnaire data on half a million Chinese and found that those who ate spicy food once or twice a week had a 10 percent reduced chance of death (eating it daily further increased the health benefit but only marginally). NHS Choices, which takes pride in sober analysis of sometimes hysterical health news, gave this one a cautious thumbs up, saying it ‘adds to emerging evidence that capsaicin in chilli pepper may have a positive effect’ on health.

How appropriate then that Daisy celebrates her birthday on October 12th, the day that Columbus landed in the Americas and – among many other things – introduced Europe to the chilli pepper.

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