Spice up your life—you could live longer

Those who ate spicy foods frequently were 29% less likely to die of respiratory diseases

A new study in BMJ finds that people who frequently consume spicy foods could have a lower risk of heart disease, respiratory disease, cancer, and even death.

For the study, researchers analyzed the dietary habits of more than 485,000 individuals enrolled in a Chinese health study between 2004 and 2008. They then followed up with participants to track their morbidity and mortality rates for an average of seven years.  

The researchers controlled for factors like participants' family medical history, age, education status, diabetes, and smoking history.

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Compared with non-spicy food eaters (defined as people who ate spicy foods like chili peppers less than once per week), people who consumed spicy foods once or twice per week had a 10% lower risk of death over the course of the study period. And those who consumed such foods six to seven times per week had a 14% lower risk of death.    

In addition, spicy food eaters who consumed spicy foods six to seven days per week were:

  • 29% less likely to die of respiratory diseases;
  • 22% less likely to die of ischemic heart disease;  and
  • 8% less likely to die of certain cancers.

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Experts have long known spicy foods are full of antioxidants, and spices have been used for ages in traditional medicine practices, notes Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Specifically, Sandon says that peppers can combat inflammation and are high in vitamin C, which is a "known potential cancer-fighting agent."

Lu Qi, a study co-author and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, says that the findings are "very simple," adding, "If you eat more spicy food, it's better for your health and lowers the risk for mortality, especially as it relates to cancer and heart disease."

However, study authors say they still have not established a direct connection between spicy foods and lower mortality rates. "We need more evidence, especially from clinical trials, to further verify these findings," Qi says (Bakalar, "Well," New York Times, 8/4; Mozes, HealthDay/U.S. News & World Report, 8/5, Kaplan, Los Angeles Times, 8/4).

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