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Eating spicy foods may help lower risk of death

Benefits from eating spices regularly throughout the week

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 05 August 2015

People who eat spicy food regularly as part of a daily diet may have a lower risk of death, according to a study* published today in The BMJ.

An international team of researchers have found some evidence of benefits for people who regularly have spicy foods in terms of preventing deaths from certain conditions such as cancer, and ischaemic heart and respiratory diseases.

Previous research has suggested that there are beneficial effects of spices and their bioactive ingredient capsaicin, such as anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-inflammation and anticancer properties.

An international team led by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences investigated the association between consumption of spicy foods as part of a daily diet and the total risk and causes of death.

They carried out a prospective study of 487,375 participants, aged 30-79 years, from across China who are part of the China Kadoorie Biobank. Participants were enrolled between 2004-2008 and followed up for morbidities and mortality.

As part of the study, all the participants completed a questionnaire about their general health, physical measurements, and consumption of spicy foods, and red meat, vegetable and alcohol.

Participants with a history of cancer, heart disease, and stroke were excluded from the study, and factors such as age, marital status, level of education, and physical activity were taken into account.

During an average follow-up of 7.2 years, there were 20,224 deaths.

The researchers found that compared with participants who ate spicy foods less than once a week, those who consumed spicy foods 1 or 2 days a week were at a 10% reduced risk of death.

People who ate spicy foods almost every day had a relative 14% lower risk of death compared to those who consumed spicy foods less than once a week. The same association existed for men and women.

Frequent consumption of spicy foods was also linked to a lower risk of death from cancer, and ischaemic heart and respiratory system diseases, but this was more evident in women than men.

Fresh and dried chilli peppers were the most commonly used spices amongst people who reported eating spicy foods weekly, and further analysis showed those who consumed fresh chilli tended to have a lower risk of death from cancer, ischaemic heart disease, and diabetes.

The authors suggested that some of the bioactive ingredients are likely to drive this association and said fresh chilli is richer in capsaicin, vitamin C, and other nutrients than non-fresh spicy foods.

This is an observational study so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, but the authors called for more research that could “lead to updated dietary recommendations and development of functional foods.”

In an accompanying editorial**, Nita Forouhi from University of Cambridge said: “Future research is needed to establish whether spicy food consumption has the potential to improve health and reduce mortality directly or if it is merely a marker of other dietary and lifestyle factors.

“The added contribution of spicy food intake to the benefits of a balanced healthy diet and healthy lifestyles also remains to be investigated.”

* Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause specific mortality: population based cohort study. BMJ 2015;351:h3942

** Consumption of hot spicy foods and mortality—is chilli good for your health? BMJ 2015;351:h4141

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