Health

Spice Up Your Life

Some foods may help ward off cancer, heart disease

Sriracha lovers, rejoice. The fiery, ubiquitous chili sauce and other spicy foods could add years to your life, according to a recent study.

A large Chinese health study has found that people who eat spicy food regularly have a lower risk of dying from cancer, heart and respiratory diseases than those who don’t.

Chipotle pepper
Jalapeño pepper

Compared to those who ate spicy foods less than once a week, people who ate tongue-torching stuff six or seven times a week had a 14 percent lower risk of death, the study found. The connection was strongest in people who didn’t drink alcohol.

The study also found that women who ate spicy food regularly had a significantly lower risk of dying from infections.

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“Our study provides the first evidence to show regular consumption of spicy foods may benefit human health,” Dr. Lu Qi, an associate professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and one of the authors of the study, told LifeZette.

Chipotle pepper
Chipotle pepper

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Recently published in the medical journal BMJ, the study involved more than 487,000 people in 10 geographically diverse areas of China.

The individuals included in the study were between 30 and 79 years old and participated from 2004 to 2008. Respondents explained how often they ate spicy foods. The study excluded people with cancer, heart disease or history of stroke.

Cayenne pepper
Cayenne pepper

Most people in the study ate chili peppers, but researchers said the use of other spices may also be beneficial. The risk of deaths from cancer, ischemic heart disease and diabetes were lowest among people who ate fresh chili pepper rather than dried chili pepper, chili sauce or chili oil, the study said.

The study pointed out that fresh chili pepper is richer in capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, as well as vitamin C, potassium and other nutrients.

Habanero pepper
Habanero pepper

Spices have long been used for medicinal purposes as well as flavoring, color and food preservation. The study’s authors said their findings are in line with previous studies that have shown the health benefits of spicy foods and of capsaicin. Small population and experimental studies have looked at capsaicin’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and its effect on obesity and other health challenges.

The spice-health connection was strongest in people who didn’t drink alcohol.

The authors acknowledged that their study had a few limitations.

Related: Don’t Be So Inflammatory

Eating spicy foods may be connected with other food habits and behaviors, they said, and may also be connected to socioeconomic status, which researchers partially controlled for in their analyses.

So what is the takeaway? Don’t start gnawing on fresh chili peppers or douse all of your food with Sriracha just yet. “More evidence is definitely needed to recommend (an) increase of spicy foods to the community,” Dr. Li told LifeZette.

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