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Can spicy food really help you live longer? Here's what the experts are saying

Any excuse for a takeaway.

Image: Shutterstock/AS Food studio

A FAN OF spicy curries that are so hot they make your eyes water? We might have some good news for you so.

According to a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), eating spicy food more frequently as part of a daily diet is associated with a lower risk of death.

The association was also found for deaths from certain conditions such as cancer, and heart and respiratory diseases.

Dietary recommendations

The BMJ points out that this is is an observational study, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. Hmm. The good news is that the authors call for more research that may “lead to updated dietary recommendations and development of functional foods”.

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.

Study

They undertook a prospective study of 487,375 participants, aged 30-79 years, from the China Kadoorie Biobank.

Participants were enrolled between 2004-2008 and followed up for morbidities and mortality.

  • 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.

The researchers found that during a follow-up of around seven years, there were 20,224 deaths.

What they discovered

Compared with the people who ate spicy foods less than once a week, those who consumed spicy foods one or two days a week were at a 10% reduced risk of death.

The people who ate spicy foods three to five and six or seven days a week were at a 14% reduced risk of death.

This meant that participants who ate spicy foods almost every day had a relative 14% lower risk of death compared to those who consumed spicy foods less than once a week.

The association was similar in both men and women, and was stronger in those who didn’t drink alcohol.

In addition, frequent eating of spicy foods was also linked to a lower risk of death from cancer, and ischaemic heart and respiratory system diseases – and this was more evident in women than men.

Spicy stuff

The study showed that fresh and dried chilli peppers were the most commonly used spices in those who reported eating spicy foods weekly.

The people who consumed fresh chilli tended to have a lower risk of death from cancer, ischaemic heart disease, and diabetes.

Some of the bioactive ingredients are likely to drive this association, the authors explain, adding that fresh chilli is richer in capsaicin, vitamin C, and other nutrients.

Here’s the caveat though: they caution against linking any of these with lowering the risk of death.

So, should people eat spicy food to improve health? Nita Forouhi from the University of Cambridge says in an accompanying editorial that it is too early to tell.

She calls for more research to test whether these associations are the direct result of spicy food intake or whether this is a marker for other dietary or lifestyle factors.

It may be an excuse to eat more curry, or it may not – but probably best to stick with the homemade version rather than a fatty take-away if you really want health benefits.

Read: 17 places to eat a curry in Ireland before you die>

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