If you tend to avoid spicy foods because you either don’t like the taste or the after-effects, you might want to reconsider. Recent research suggests that eating foods with chili pepper and other hot spices could actually help you live longer.
A Growing Body of Evidence
Scientific evidence is gradually starting to add substance to the belief that spices can provide substantial benefits to the body.
One extensive study involving nearly 500,000 people in China appears to show that consuming spicy foods could add years to your life, potentially reducing the chances you’ll develop dangerous health problems, such as heart disease. According to the results of the study, people who ate spicy foods nearly every day were 14 percent less likely to die prematurely than those who only ate spicy meals once a week or less. 1
Another study appears to corroborate the findings of the Chinese researchers. This one involved more than 16,000 U.S. adults who participated in a dietary survey over a 23-year period.2 During this time, slightly fewer than 5,000 of those participants passed away. Researchers analyzed these deaths after establishing controls for characteristics such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, age, gender, smoking, diabetes, and others.
Their findings were very close to those of the Chinese study – participants who reported eating spicy foods on a regular basis were at a 13 percent lower risk of dying prematurely. It should be noted, however, that the authors of the study were not aware of the quantity of peppers that participants consumed on a regular basis.
Capsaicin Seems to Be the Key
The active ingredient in chili pepper (the ingredient that basically gives it its “kick”) is capsaicin. According to the study, capsaicin is associated with several different health benefits, such as increasing the metabolism to help the body shed pounds.
Capsaicin is actually a very versatile substance. Historically, it has been used to help treat fever blisters and cold sores, to relieve pain associated with arthritis, and even as an insect repellant.
Capsaicin could help reduce obesity by encouraging feelings of fullness. A study was conducted to analyze the how capsaicin affects the appetite. Eight men and seven women participated in the study. Their ages ranged from 30-40 years old. They were split up into three groups – one group received 100 percent of their daily energy requirements (DER) from food alone, while the second received the same percentage of DER supplemented with capsaicin. The third group received 75 percent of their DER, along with a capsaicin supplement.3
The groups receiving capsaicin took a dose of about 2.5 mg with each meal they ate. Researchers conducting the study then measured the participants each waking hour, as well as before and after each meal, for feelings of fullness. According to the results, the group consuming 75 percent of DER plus capsaicin had the same level of fullness as the 100 percent DER/capsaicin group. However, both groups showed less of an inclination to over-consume than the group that took no capsaicin.
After the completion of the study, the researchers concluded that adding capsaicin to the diet promotes a feeling of fullness and reduces the tendency to overeat.
Is Hot Food the Answer to Living Longer?
There are a few downsides to eating a lot of spicy food. For example, doing so could be a problem if you struggle with comfortable digestion. Spicy foods, like chili pepper, may also worsen a runny nose or aggravate a sinus infection or a cold.
One of the questions scientists are still trying to sort out is whether the benefits of chili pepper and other spices can be most attributed to biology or behavior. Those who believe the benefits are biological believe that eating spices stimulates a process known as thermogenesis, which speeds up the metabolism and can promote weight loss. Those subscribing to the behavioral theory say that when you eat spicy food, you tend to eat less of it – and cut calories as a result.
But on the whole, it looks like there could be far more benefits than drawbacks to spicing up your diet. That doesn’t mean you should immediately start adding chili peppers to everything you consume. You still have to employ some common sense.
Starting out gradually seems to be the best course of action. Sprinkle a little chili pepper on your favorite food, and see what you think. You could also vary the kinds of spices you use, including crushed red peppers. Be careful, though, if you start cooking food with dried red peppers. If you burn them, the scent will waft throughout your home and stay there for a long time. It might even make your eyes water.
Feel free to experiment – but don’t overdo it. Additionally, be careful when handling hot, red peppers. Consider wearing gloves, as the oils in the peppers can be a skin irritant, don’t rub your eyes or face after handling the peppers, and always wash your hands thoroughly after prepping is done.
And if you eat too much spicy food, look to dairy to cool your tastebuds, not water. Drinking water will just spread the heat around your mouth, where milk or yogurt will calm your tastebuds.
Of course, you should always talk to your doctor first before changing the type of food you eat to make sure your system will be able to safely adjust. And if you find that you simply can’t tolerate the heat of spicy foods, but you still want to reap the potential health benefits, consider taking a supplement that contains capsaicin. The supplement’s coating will help to prevent any digestive irritation.