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Eating spicy foods may lower risk for specific causes of death

The main ingredient in chili peppers has previously been found to have anti-inflammatory qualities.

By Stephen Feller
Eating spicy foods may lower risk for specific causes of death
The most common form of spice used in Chinese cuisine is chili pepper. Photo by anawat sudchanham/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- Researchers have found that eating spicy foods several times per week can lower the risk of death by about 14 percent, and specifically lower the risk of dying from cancer, heart and respiratory diseases.

While the statistical relationship was shown in the study, researchers caution that a cause and effect relationship between spicy foods and lower risk of death can't be inferred from the study. The main ingredient in chili peppers, capsaicin, has, however, been found in previous studies to have antioxident and anti-inflammatory effects.

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"The findings are highly novel," said Lu Qi, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a press release. "To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first reporting a link between spicy food intake and mortality."

Researchers reviewed health data for 487,375 people between the ages of 30 and 79 collected from 2004 to 2008 as part of the China Kadoorie Biobank. The researchers discounted people with a history of cancer, heart disease and stroke, finding that during a median follow-up of 7 years there were 11,820 deaths among men and 8,404 among women.

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The study, published in the British Medical Journal, showed that eating spicy foods once or twice per week lowered the risk of death by about 10 percent, and eating it nearly every day lowered the risk of death by about 14 percent.

An editorial published with the study points out the Chinese diet relies heavily on spice and that "it is unclear whether the observed associations are the direct result of chilli intake or whether chilli is simply a marker for other beneficial but unmeasured dietary components."

"We need more evidence, especially from clinical trials, to further verify these findings," Qi, told the New York Times, "and we are looking forward to seeing data from other populations."

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