Hot foods have been the focus of research suggesting that eating fiery ingredients such as chilli peppers may do more than burn your tongue. These foods may help you live longer.
“There is accumulating evidence from mostly experimental research to show the benefit of spices or their active components on human health,” said Lu Qi, an associate professor at Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of the study. But the evidence evaluating consumption of spicy foods and mortality from population studies had been lacking, he said.
As a result, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences studied data collected from 2004 to 2008 as part of the China Kadoorie Biobank. Using self-reported questionnaires, they analyzed the spicy food consumption of nearly half a million people age 30 to 70 across 10 regions in China, excluding those with cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Li ‘The Chilli Man’ Youngzhi eats up to 2 kilograms of chillies every day
They then reviewed the records of 20,224 people who died over a seven-year follow-up period and found that those who ate spicy foods six or seven times a week had a 14% lower risk of premature death for all causes than people who ate spicy foods less than once a week. People who frequently consumed spicy food also showed a lower risk of death from cancer or ischemic heart and respiratory system diseases. Fresh and dried chilli peppers were the most common spicy sources, according to the study.
The study points to the benefits of capsaicin, a bioactive ingredient in chilli peppers, which has been linked to health perks such as burning fat. Folk medicine practitioners also say capsaicin can help fight infection and stimulate the kidneys, lungs and heart.
The study cites limitations including the lack of information about other dietary and lifestyle habits or how spicy food was cooked or prepared. In addition, researchers note that although chilli pepper was the most commonly used spice based on self-reports, the use of different spices tends to increase as the use of chilli pepper increases. Consuming these other spices may also result in health benefits, independent of chillies.