When the hot sauce is available at the dinner table, do you pass it by? A large study involving 20,000 men and women, shows that the smart choice is to add the hot sauce, and regularly, assuming you can tolerate the heat.
The study, just published online in the 4 August 2015 British Medical Journal (BMJ), was based in China where use of fresh chili pepper sauce is common. The researchers surveyed the participants several times, during the eight years of the study, regarding how often they ate spicy food (none to every day).
At the end of the study, they looked at the people who were still alive, and who had died and compared that with their spicy food consumption. The results showed that the people who ate spicy food either 6 or 7 days a week had a 14% lower risk of dying during the 8-year period.
The people who ate spicy food most frequently had the best survival rates, but even people who ate spicy food a couple times a week had a 10% lower risk of death during the study. The hot food eaters enjoyed a lower risk of heart attack, cancer, and respiratory diseases.
This study does not prove that eating spicy food will help you live longer, but the results of such a large study are strongly supportive. Plus, these results are consistent with many smaller studies from the past 30 years, which have shown a broad range of health benefits from eating spicy foods.
The main active ingredient in chili peppers is capsaicin, known to have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. A chronic inflammatory state in the body appears to increase the risk of cancer, so it makes sense that capsaicin might lower the risk of cancer. Hot peppers are also filled with a rich supply of vitamins and minerals.
A 2009 report from one of the top cancer centers in the world, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (Houston, Texas), notes that India, where hot spice use is high, has a much lower cancer incidence, and a lower risk of chronic disease in general. M.D. Anderson notes that capsaicin has significant anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antihypertensive effects, as well improving glucose metabolism, thus lowering the risk of diabetes.
You might worry that eating spicy food will harm your mouth or stomach. While you might get some pain in your mouth (helped by milk if needed), recent studies show that spicy foods do not cause stomach ulcers. Everyone is different, so see how your digestive system responds (for example, some people notice acid reflux after spice).
If you can tolerate it, use spicy food as a substitute for salty food. For sure, capsaicin (and other spices such as ginger, cumin, garlic, clove, cinnamon, rosemary, oregano, and others) is much healthier for you than salt.
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