Spices have been an integral part of culinary cultures around the world and have a long history of use for flavouring, colouring and preserving food, as well as for medicinal purposes. The increased use of spices as flavourings in foods is a major trend worldwide. In a study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers asked nearly 500,000 people in China how often they ate hot, spicy foods. The participants were aged 30 to 79 when the study started, and the researchers followed up with them for about seven years, during which time 20,000 of the people had died. The participants were given a questionnaire and asked “During the past month, about how often did you eat hot spicy foods?” Participants were also asked to specify what the main sources of spice were, e.g. fresh chilli pepper, dried chilli pepper, chilli oil, etc.
The researchers found that the people in the study who ate spicy foods one or two days a week were 10 per cent less likely to die during the study, compared with those who ate spicy foods less than once a week. Moreover, the people in the study who ate spicy foods three or more days a week were 14 per cent less likely to die during the study, compared with those who ate spicy foods less than once a week. Fresh and dried chilli peppers were the most frequently used types of spices among the people who ate spicy food at least once a week.
The study is the first to analyse the association between daily consumption of spicy foods and mortality in a prospective cohort. The findings are in line with previous evidence showing potential effects of spicy foods on human health. The beneficial roles of capsaicin (the main active component of chilli pepper) have been extensively reported in relation to anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antihypertensive effects, and in improving glucose homeostasis. Future research is needed to establish whether spicy food consumption has the potential to improve health and reduce mortality directly, or if it is merely a marker of other dietary and lifestyle factors.