Why eating three spicy dishes a week helps you live longer

Chinese study suggests eating food containing spices at least three times a week lowers risk of death from cancer, heart and respiratory system diseases by 14 per cent; effect is greater if consumed without alcohol

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2015, 8:36am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 August, 2015, 10:05pm

People who eat spicy dishes at least three days each week have a 14 per cent lower risk of death compared to people who consume spicy foods less than once a week, according to a new study by an international team of researchers led by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.

Among the 487,375 Chinese study participants, frequent spicy food consumption was also found to be linked to a lower risk of death from cancer, and ischaemic heart and respiratory system diseases.

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

Before you set your tongue on fire, take note: the researchers caution that the study, published in the BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal), was only observational and therefore no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. But the authors call for more research that may "lead to updated dietary recommendations and development of functional foods”.

The study participants, aged 30 to 79 years, were enrolled in the China Kadoorie Biobank, a prospective health study investigating the causes of major chronic diseases, between 2004 and 2008. They were followed up for an average of about seven years for ailments and deaths.

All 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 accounted for.

Compared with participants who ate spicy foods less than once a week, those who consumed spicy foods one or two days a week had a 10 per cent lower risk of death. Those who ate spicy foods between three and seven days a week had a 14 per cent lower risk of death.

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

Some of the bioactive ingredients of chilli peppers, such as capsaicin, are likely to drive this association, the authors explain. Fresh chilli is richer in capsaicin, vitamin C, and other nutrients than dried chilli, they add.

Previous research has suggested that spices and capsaicin have anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

While more research is needed to confirm these associations, it probably won’t hurt to dig into some spicy food in the meantime. Here are five restaurants we recommend that will help you turn up the heat.