Habanero, jalapeno, Scotch bonnet — those hot but tasty varieties of the capsicum frutescens have multiple health benefits — including the ability to drive prostate cancer cells to kill themselves, according to a report in The Washington Times.

A research team from the University of California at Los Angeles and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found that the hot stuff in peppers — capsaicin — caused 80 per cent of active prostate cancer cells growing in mice to "follow the molecular pathways leading to apoptosis" or cell death.

The cancer cells essentially committed suicide. What's more, the cancer tumours of the mice treated with a hot pepper extract were one-fifth the size of untreated mice. "Capsaicin had a profound anti-proliferative effect on human prostate cancer cells in culture," said Dr Soren Lehmann. "It also dramatically slowed the development of prostate tumours formed by those human cell lines grown in mouse models."

According to Dr Lehmann, the mice were fed a dose of pepper extract equivalent to what a normal person might consume — 400 milligrams of extract three times a week. That amount translates to three to eight fresh habanero peppers.

Other research has shown peppers to have antioxidant properties, and their anti-inflammatory properties have been tapped for treatment of migraines, arthritis and muscle pain. Hot peppers also have been found to suppress appetites and clear a stuffy head and are a good source of vitamins A, C and E, folic acid and potassium.

American men develop prostate cancer more than any other type of malignancy — 232,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States annually; 30,000 men die of prostate cancer in the United States each year.