Spicy Food Could Decrease Early Death Risk

Wednesday, 05 August 2015

Researchers in China have reported findings from a broad study that suggest people who regularly eat spicy food are at a slightly lower mortality risk than those who consume it less than once a week.

487,375 people participated in the 7 year study and of these, 20,224 died over the average duration period.

After the results had been adjusted to account for influential factors such as age, participants who consumed spicy foods (usually in the form of chilli oil, chilli sauce or chilli peppers) six to seven times per week were found to have a 14% lower mortality risk than people who rarely ate spicy food.

According to the research, which is published in the British Medical Journal, a similar pattern was noted in mortality risk for certain conditions, such as heart and respiratory illnesses and cancer.

As with all studies of its kind, the researchers were unable to prove it was the spicy food that lowered the risk. Expert commentators have speculated whether it might be linked to the foods consumed with the chilli, or other lifestyle factors associated with eating chillies. For example, the people who consumed the most spicy food were more likely to live in rural areas.

However, the study has encouraged calls for more investigation into the effects spicy foods have. Experts from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, who led the study, believe this might lead to updates in dietary recommendations.

Dr Nita Forouhi works at the Medical Research Council’s epidemiology unit at Cambridge University. She said that though the findings must only be thought of as ‘hypothesis gathering’ rather than irrefutable, research and debate into spicy food is certainly on the increase.

In a BMJ editorial, she said there are a number of potential benefits for chillies or capsaicin, their bioactive compound. Among these are anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties.

Nonetheless, these findings have yet to be tested in a methodical assessment of spicy food. Dr Forouhi said this kind of study could now be justified.

Capsaicin is what causes the spicy sensation in chilli peppers as it brings a burning sensation as it comes into contact with the mucous membranes. It has also been connected to anti-obesity effects as it has a beneficial effect on our gut bacteria.

But principal dietician at St George’s Hospital, Catherine Collins, said the Chinese research wasn’t persuasive enough to recommend chilli peppers as a daily dietary requirement.

She pointed out that in any style of cooking it is rare to just use one spice, so it’s not possible to establish whether chilli peppers have an effect on mortality or that using them in cooking adds health benefits as well as nutritional advantages.