Live Long and Eat Spicy Food

Eating spicy foods may be linked to lower risk of death

Spicy food lovers rejoice! Turns out your hot sauce may love you back.

A new study from China found that eating spicy foods on a regular basis may be linked to a lower risk of death from all causes.

"Spices have been an integral part of culinary cultures around the world and have a long history of use for flavoring, coloring, and preserving food, as well as for medicinal purposes," wrote lead study author Jun Lu, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Peking University in Beijing, and colleagues. "The beneficial effects of spices and their ingredients such as capsaicin have long been documented in experimental or small sized population studies. These data collectively suggest that spices may have a profound influence on mortality."

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers. It produces a sensation of burning or heat.

According to these researchers, because it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, capsaicin has previously been linked to weight loss and other health benefits.

Between 2004 and 2008, Dr. Lu and team recruited 450,000 Chinese men and women between the ages of 30 and 79.

These participants were asked to report how often they ate spicy foods within the past month.

Response choices ranged from "never or almost never" to "six or seven days per week."

After seven years, these researchers reviewed the health records of the 20,224 participants who died during that time.

Those who ate spicy foods most often were found to have the lowest rates of death from all causes.

"Compared with those who ate spicy foods less than once a week, those who consumed spicy foods almost every day had a 14 [percent] lower risk of death," Dr. Lu and colleagues wrote.

Eating a spicy diet was also linked to a lower risk of death from cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease.

These links were found in both men and women of all ages.

In an accompanying editorial, Nita G. Forouhi, PhD, of the Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge in the UK, pointed out several shortcomings of this study.

For instance, Dr. Lu and team only measured consumption of types of chili — fresh, dried, oil or sauce.

“It is unclear whether the observed associations are the direct result of [chili] intake or whether [chili] is simply a marker for other beneficial but unmeasured dietary components,” Dr. Forouhi wrote.

Dr. Forouhi also pointed out that the degree of hotness was not measured.

“So, should we encourage people to eat more [chili]? As the authors acknowledge, a cause and effect relation cannot be inferred from their work,” Dr. Forouhi wrote. “In this prospective study, Lu and colleagues have shown [an] association, but we need to evaluate additional criteria to judge the strength of evidence.”

This study and the editorial were published Aug. 4 in the journal The BMJ.

The National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, the Wellcome Trust and the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation funded this research.

No conflicts of interests were disclosed.