Here’s another reason to indulge in a curry tonight: A new study has found that eating spicy food could help you live a longer life.
You may have heard of the benefits of spicy food before, but this study is worth paying attention to. It is the first study of a large cohort that found a link between daily consumption of spicy foods and longevity. The researchers analyzed data from 500,000 Chinese people.
After controlling for factors such as family medical history, age, education, diabetes, and smoking, the researchers found that those who consumed spicy foods—mostly containing chili peppers—six times a week reduced their mortality rate by 14%. Even those who indulged only twice a week reduced their mortality by 10%.
The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, are consistent with previous studies. Although this study only finds a correlational link—and doesn’t indicate what causes the effect—the researchers speculate that the protective effects might be due to capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers. (Foods made with fresh chili peppers had a greater health benefit, compared with dry chili peppers.)
The analysis shows the the greatest protective effect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease. More research would be needed to understand how this protective effect works, but we have some hints. For instance, the sensory nerves in the cardiovascular system are sensitive to capsaicin, and chili peppers may help regulate its function.
As with all studies that find a correlation between two factors, there are a few caveats. First, those who didn’t consume alcohol had a higher protective effect. Second, those who enjoy spicy foods may also have other beneficial dietary and lifestyle habits that the analysis could not tease out. Third, the link could be the other way around. People with propensity to get diseases may dislike spicy foods more. Finally, the study only involved Chinese people, and thus wider studies would be needed to confirm the results are applicable elsewhere.
The good news for those of us who enjoy spicy food is that there doesn’t seem to be a downside to eating spicy food. So enjoy that curry, but maybe skip the pint of beer.