Many small-sized studies have long examined the potential health benefits of spicy foods. For instance, capsaicin in spicy foods has received much scientific attention over the years. The potential health benefits of spicy food that have been studied range from weight reduction, improving skin and heart conditions to even reducing the risk of cancers. It also has been shown to have anti-microbial properties that can affect the gut bacterial populations. However, it is important to note that most of these are small-scale studies that concluded a potential correlation between spicy food and the claimed health benefits. Therefore, in the absence of larger, robust trials, we can’t say for sure that these health benefits are definitely a result of the spicy food.
In a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2015, researchers surveyed more than 500, 000 healthy participants from diverse geographic locations in China on spicy food consumption. It was observed that people who consumed spicy food more often had a significantly lower risk of death (from all causes) compared to those who did not consume spicy food. The risk became lower with higher frequency of consumption weekly. Although this was a well-designed study with a large sample size, there were several limitations. The study did not take into account other dietary habits and lifestyle behaviours that might be associated with the consumption of spicy food, nor did they look into the carbohydrate intake since the consumption of spicy food may be associated with increased consumption of carbohydrates (such as rice) to reduce the discomfort caused by the pungent taste. Despite the results of this study suggesting that spicy food may reduce overall risk of death, a more comprehensive study is required to confirm the findings.
Although not confirmatory, this study does give us an extra reason to take more curry, other than its delicious and taste-buds waking piquancy!
- Lv, J., Qi, L., Yu, C., Yang, L., Guo, Y., Chen, Y., Bian, Z., Sun, D., Du, J., Ge, P., Tang, Z., Hou, W., Li, Y., Chen, J., Chen, Z. and Li, L. (2015). Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause specific mortality: population based cohort study. BMJ, p.h3942.