I love spicy food. If spicy food makes me tear up, it makes me happy. I used to not be a lover of spicy food, but I gained a great appreciation for it when I lived in South Korea for two years. Geography can indeed have an influence on your taste buds! Last month, a friend of mine posted a New York Times article about the health benefits of spicy food, which was titled “Eating Spicy Food Linked to a Longer Life. According to the article, in a study that was published in The BMJ, researchers concluded that having chili peppers either once a week or once or twice a week reduced mortality risk by 10 percent and consuming spicy food six to seven times a week reduced mortality risk by 14 percent (Bakalar, 2015). So does this mean that gives a spicy food lover free license to gouge their food with hot sauce? Not so fast.
Taking a more in-depth look at the study, there seems to be more to the story. When looking at the absolute mortality rates, the difference between the group that ate the spicy foods less than once a week (6.1) and the group that ate spicy foods six or seven days (5.8) a week is quite small compared to the groups that ate spicy foods once or twice a week (4.4) and three to five times a week (4.3) (Jun et al., 2015). The article merely mentions that the mortality rates for cancer, ischemic heart disease, and respiratory diseases were lower among the group that ate spicy foods six to seven days a week. Looking at the actual range in which the risk for mortality can lie shows that this is not as black and white. The group who ate spicy food six or seven days a week actually had a zero to 15 percent chance of having a reduced mortality risk due to cancer, a zero to thirty percent chance of having a reduced mortality risk due to Ischemic heart disease, and a three to 33 percent chance of having a reduced mortality risk of respiratory disease (Jun et al., 2015). These ranges have a 95% confidence interval which means that there is a 95% chance that the actual range falls within these values.
The article says that the researchers did not draw any conclusions about cause and effect and said there needs to be more evidence. So while the title says one thing, in the end, the authors do not want us to jump to conclusions. In the actual study, they even mentioned that eating spicy foods might be correlated to other dietary and lifestyle behaviors (Jun, et al., 2015). In addition, geography could play a role as well. Those who ate more amounts of spicy foods lived in rural areas(which could mean cleaner air quality) and more fruit and vegetables. While there needs to be more research regarding the relationship between spicy food consumption and mortality risk, it certainly doesn’t hurt to add a little bit of spice to your life. Health practitioners can find this information to be useful when working with patients who are suffering from the diseases mentioned in the study. In making suggestions for changing one diet, practitioners could mention the possible benefit of chili peppers in terms of reducing mortality risk. Patients can encounter difficulty knowing where to start with making major dietary changes and this information could be helpful to them.
Bakalar, N. (2015). Eating Spicy Food Linked to a Longer Life. New York Times. Retrieved from
Jun, L., Qi, L., Yu, C., Yang, L., Guo, Y., Chen, Y., Bian, Z.,…Li, L.(2015). Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause specific mortality: population based cohort study. BMJ 351, 1-10.