- People who ate spicy foods had a 14% lower risk of premature death
- The study points to the benefits of capsaicin, a bioactive ingredient in chili peppers
- Research is needed to determine whether spicy food provides a protective effect
"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 published this week in the BMJ
. But the evidence evaluating consumption of spicy foods and mortality from population studies was 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.
They then reviewed the records of 20,224 people who died over a seven-year followup 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 chili peppers were the most common spicy sources, according to the study.
What is it about spicy foods? The study points to the benefits of capsaicin, a bioactive ingredient in chili peppers, which has been linked to health perks such as increased fat burning
. Folk medicine practitioners
also say capsaicin can help fight infection and stimulate the kidneys, lungs and heart.
Then, there's the old wives' tale that says eating spicy food will induce labor (although there's no scientific evidence supporting this claim
There are also a few risks associated with eating spicy foods. "There are certain foods that are triggers for people with incontinence
or overactive bladders, including spicy foods,