Regular consumption of spicy foods, especially fresh chili, may be linked to a lower risk of premature death, a new study found.
However, researchers cautioned that more investigation is required to further confirm the link. The study was published in The BMJ journal.
Between 2004 and 2008, the study authors collected dietary data from nearly 500,000 people, aged 30 to 79 from 10 different regions in China and their health was monitored for an average of seven years. Just over 20,000 participants died in the period.
The findings revealed that the people in the study who ate spicy foods one or two days a week were 10% less likely to die during the study, and those who ate spicy foods three or more days a week 14%, compared with those who ate spicy foods less than once a week.
The exact reason why the consumption of spicy food is linked to lower mortality is still unknown, but previous research on cells and animals has suggested several possible mechanisms, said study author Lu Qi, an associate professor at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. For example, the consumption of spicy foods has been shown to lower inflammation, improve the breakdown of fat in the body and change the composition of gut bacteria.
In the study, the participants were asked to specify the main sources of spices they normally used. The researchers discovered that fresh and dried chili peppers were the most frequently used types of spices among the people who ate spicy food at least once a week.
The answer may be found in an ingredient of spices — capsaicin, which has previously been suggested to show anti-obesity, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammation and anti-cancer properties.
The team urged “further prospective studies in other populations,” that may lead to dietary recommendations and “development of functional foods, such as herbal supplements.”
However, according to Nita Forouhi, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, “it is unclear whether the observed associations are the direct result of chili intake, or whether chili is simply a marker for other beneficial but unmeasured dietary components.” At this point, researchers don’t know for sure whether eating spicy foods can have a beneficial effect on human health and mortality, added Forouhi. “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,” she said.
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