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A large Chinese health study found that eating spicy foods three or more days a week was associated with a 14 percent reduced risk of death compared with eating spicy food less than once a week.
Over four years, the study observed more than 487,000 people aged 30 to 79. Participants who consumed spicy foods—mainly fresh and dried chili peppers—once or twice a week were at a 10 percent reduced risk of death. The findings were stronger for those who did not drink alcohol.
Health benefits linked with spicy food choices in the study included a lower risk of dying from cancer and some heart and respiratory diseases.
The study, which relied on data collected from 2004 and 2007 by the China Kadoorie Biobank excluded participants with a history of cancer, heart disease and stroke.
The researchers, from at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, said that while the findings are preliminary and more research is needed to understand the link, their work may, one day, lead to new dietary recommendations.
Why chili peppers?
Researchers cited previous studies which have revealed capsaicin as the nutrient responsible for chili peppers’ anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-inflammation and anticancer qualities, according to the release. In the study, fresh chilis appeared to be linked to more of the longevity benefits than dried chilis, researchers found. The study appeared in the online version of the August 2015 British Medical Journal.
Some observers cautioned that it may be some time before we know whether Chinese produce, cooking or culture may play a role in the apparent health benefits of spicy food.
As Kevin McConway, a professor of applied statistics at the Open University, told The Guardian: “Maybe this is something in the way spices are used in Chinese cooking, or [it is] related to other things people eat or drink with the spicy food. Maybe it has something to do with the sort of people, in China, who tend to eat more spicy food.”
For now, though, if you have no reason to avoid spicy food for digestive or sleep problems, eat up!
Read for more on healthy foods and how to cook hot peppers.