HOT curries are not only delicious but may also offer substantial health benefits after a new study revealed that eating spicy food as part of a daily diet could lower the risk of early death.
Research showed that people who ate spicy foods almost every day had a 14 per cent lower risk of dying prematurely compared to those who consumed hot food less than once a week.
Moreover, participants who ate fresh chillies frequently were also found to have a decreased risk of dying from cancer, ischaemic heart disease and diabetes.
Authors of the study, which was published in the BMJ journal this week, said fresh chillies were richer in capsaicin, vitamin C and other nutrients than the dried variety.
The research said: “Our analyses showed significant inverse associations between spicy food consumption and total and certain cause specific mortality (cancer, ischemic heart diseases, and respiratory diseases).
Nonetheless, given the observational nature of this study, it is not possible to make a causal inference. “Further prospective studies in other populations would be essential to demonstrate generalisability of these findings.
More evidence will lead to updated dietary recommendations and development of functional foods, such as herbal supplements.” An international team, led by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, carried out the investigation.
They monitored 487,375 men and women aged between 30 and 79 in China. They were enrolled between 2004 and 2008 and followed up for reports on diseases, poor health and deaths.
Compared with those who ate spicy foods less than once a week, people who consumed it one or two days a week had a 10 per cent reduced risk of early death.
And heat lovers who enjoyed meals which contained chillies three to seven days a week increased their mortality rate by 14 per cent. A follow-up session after 7.2 years revealed that there had been 20,224 deaths.
As it was an observational study, no definitive conclusions could be drawn about the cause and effect of spicy foods on mortality, but the authors have called for research that may lead to updated dietary recommendations.
Participants were asked how often they ate spicy foods and what the main sources of spices they usually used in cooking were, including fresh chilli pepper, dried chilli pepper, chilli sauce, and chilli oil.
The research said: “The beneficial effects of spices and their bioactive ingredients such as capsaicin have long been documented in experimental or small-sized population studies.
For example, an ecological study showed that populations with a higher consumption of spices have a lower incidence of cancer. “The ingestion of red pepper was found to decrease appetite and energy intake in people of Asian origin and white people, and might reduce the risk of overweight and obesity.
“In addition, the bioactive agents in spices have also shown beneficial roles in obesity, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal conditions, various cancers, neurogenic bladders and dermatological conditions.
“Moreover, spices exhibit antibacterial activity and affect gut microbiota populations, which in humans have been recently related to risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver cirrhosis, and cancer.”
Gulshinder Chatta, an NHS dietitian who works in Leicester, told Eastern Eye: “The findings don’t surprise me, but I would be cautious to think that it is only spices that may have directly affected the outcomes in the study.
“Spices can have high levels of antioxidants and some, like chillies, do have a high level of vitamin C. “High vitamin and antioxidant consumption is known to have a protective effect on our health. I think there needs to be more research to establish a cause and effect relationship between spices and improved health.”
Chatta said many spices predominantly used in Asian cooking, such as turmeric and ginger, contain anti-inflammatory properties and are high in beneficial compounds which can help with certain health conditions.
“Spices are a healthy addition to any meal and if used in the place of salt, they would certainly help decrease our risk of diseases,” she added.
Nita Forouhi, from the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, leads a nutritional epidemiology programme which aims to understand the relationship between diet, nutrition and the risk of diabetes, obesity and related disorders. In an accompanying editorial in the journal, she called for more research to test if the findings were the direct result of spicy food intake.
“The use of hot spices in food to enhance taste has captured the attention of the popular press as well as food outlets, fueling a worldwide trend towards greater consumption,” she said.
“In parallel, there is increasing scientific interest in spicy foods. Many potential benefits have been suggested for chilli or its bioactive compound capsaicin, including but not limited to antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties, a beneficial influence on gut microbiota, and anti-obesity effects.”