Fresh chilli is richer in capsaicin, vitamin C, and other protective nutrients. [Photo: Bigstock]

Are spicy foods the key to a longer life?

19 August, 2015

Natural Health News — Eating spicy food more frequently as part of a daily diet is associated with a lower risk of premature death, according a new study.

Previous research has suggested that beneficial effects of spices n protecting against a range of diseases from food poisoning to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

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

They followed 487,375 people, aged 30-79 years, for seven years, looking specifically for causes of illness and death

All of the participants in the British Medical Journal study completed a questionnaire about their general health, physical measurements, and consumption of spicy foods, and red meat, vegetable and alcohol.

What you need to know

» Spicy foods such as chillies contain a variety of useful bioactive substances which help fight obesity, inflammation and even cancer.

» This international study found that those who eat spicy foods 3-7 times a week had a 14% reduced risk of dying early from a variety of conditions including heart disease and cancer.

» This protective power was more pronounced in women than in men.

Those 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 accounted for.

Protection from common diseases

Compared with those 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 from any cause over the course of the study. Those who ate spicy foods 3 to 5 and 6 or 7 days a week were at a 14% reduced risk of death.

The association was similar in both men and women, and was stronger in those who did not consume alcohol.

Eating spicy food more frequently as part of a daily diet was also associated with a lower risk of death from specific causes such as cancer, and ischemic heart and respiratory diseases, thought his effect was more evident in women than in men.

Fresh and dried chilli peppers were the most commonly used spices in those 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.

Bioactive ingredients

Some of the bioactive ingredients in chilli are likely to drive this association, the authors explain, adding that fresh chilli is richer in capsaicin, vitamin C, and other nutrients. But they caution against thinking of chilli as some kind of panacea.

Nevertheless this study adds to a growing body of research which suggests that spices, because of their high antioxidant levels and antimicrobial properties can help fight cancer and other diseases. Other evidence has suggested that chillies may have fat fighting properties and this too may contribute to their protective power.

The authors of the study suggest that more research may “lead to updated dietary recommendations and development of functional foods.”