Are you a spicy-food lover? If so, you may be pepping up more than just your taste buds. A study published in the BMJ found an association between eating spicy foods and a lower risk of death from any cause. The study included 487, 375 men and women aged 30 to 79. At the beginning of the study, participants answered a questionnaire about the frequency of their spicy food consumption and the source of the spice, such as fresh chili peppers, dried chili peppers, or chili sauce. A randomly selected portion of the participants answered the same questionnaire one to four more times during the following 1.5 years to verify that their intake of spicy foods was consistent over time. Researchers adjusted for potential risk factors for death such as age, sex, smoking habit, physical activity, and body mass index. After a follow-up period of around seven years, researchers discovered that:
People who ate spicy foods six to seven times a week had a 14% lower risk of death from any cause compared to those who ate spicy foods less than once a week.
High consumption of spicy foods was specifically associated with a lower risk of death from cancer, coronary heart disease, and respiratory diseases.
Compared to eating prepared or dried chili peppers, eating fresh chili peppers was more strongly associated with a lower risk of death due to cancer, coronary heart disease, and diabetes.
The protective effect of eating spicy foods was stronger in people who abstained from drinking alcohol than in those who didn't.
This study is in line with previous research finding that capsaicin, the main active substance in chili peppers, may have beneficial anti-obesity, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects. However, this study is observational, and more clinical research is needed to show that eating spicy foods can have a positive impact on health. In the meantime—if you love the heat—grab some hot sauce or some fresh chili peppers to give your next meal a kick.