Frequent spicy food consumption linked with lower risk of death

People who eat spicy foods nearly every day have a 14% lower risk of death compared with those who consume spicy foods less than once a week, according to a new study. Regular spicy food eaters are also less likely to die from cancer, heart, and respiratory diseases than those who eat spicy foods infrequently.

“The findings are highly novel,” said Lu Qi, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the study’s co-lead author. “To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first reporting a link between spicy food intake and mortality.”

The study appeared online August 4, 2015 in BMJ.

The researchers looked at health and dietary data gathered from 487,375 people, ages 30-79, who were enrolled between 2004-2008 in the China Kadoorie Biobank. Participants with a history of cancer, heart disease, and stroke were excluded from the study. During a median follow-up of 7.2 years, there were 11,820 deaths among men and 8,404 deaths among women.

The results showed that regular consumption of spicy food was linked to lowered mortality among both men and women after adjustment for other known or potential risk factors. The researchers found that the association was stronger in people who did not drink alcohol than in those who drank.

Fresh and dried chili peppers were the most commonly used spices reported by the Chinese study population. Capsaicin and other bioactive ingredients in chili peppers have been found in previous studies to have anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-inflammation, and anticancer properties, but the authors caution that more research is needed to determine if there is a direct link between these ingredients and lowered risk of death.

This study is supported by grants (81390541, 81390544) from the National Natural Science Foundation of China; by a grant (2011BAI09B01, 2012-14) from the National Key Technologies Research and Development Program in the 12th Five-year Plan, Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology; by a grant (088158/Z/09/Z) from the Wellcome Trust in the UK; and by a grant from the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation in Hong Kong. Qi is supported by National Institutes of Health grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (HL071981, HL034594, HL126024), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (DK091718, DK100383, DK078616), the Boston Obesity Nutrition Research Center (DK46200), and United States–Israel Binational Science Foundation Grant 2011036. Qi also was a recipient of the American Heart Association Scientist Development Award (0730094N).

“Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause-specific mortality: population based cohort study,” Jun Lv, Lu Qi, Canqing Yu, Ling Yang, Yu Guo, Yiping Chen, Dianjianyi Sun, Jianwei Du, Pengfei Ge, Zhenzhu Tang, Wei Hou, Yanjie Li, Junshi Chen, Zhengming Chen, Liming Li, BMJ, online August 4, 2015, doi: 10.1136/bmj.h4932

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