People who love to feel the burn of jalapeño peppers on their lips, or the numbing of Sichuan peppers in their mouths, have a new reason to celebrate their passion for spicy food.
A massive population study from China finds that people who eat spicy food every day are less likely to die early than those who only spiced things up once or twice a week -- or avoided the sensation altogether.
To analyze the effect of a spicy diet on health, an international group of researchers looked at data from 487,375 study participants between 30 to 79 years old. The subjects, who had no history of chronic disease, first enrolled in the study between 2004 to 2008. Researchers controlled for factors affecting longevity, such as marital status and education, and followed up after an average of seven years.
They found that spicy food eaters had 14 percent reduced relative risk of dying between the start of the study and the follow up. What's more, those who ate spicy food one to two days a week had a 10 percent reduced risk compared to people that didn’t eat any spice at all. The researchers also found that eating spicy food three to seven times a week led to a lower risk of death from cancer and heart and respiratory disease, particularly among women.
Humans have been using spices for thousands of years, to flavor and preserve food as well as to heal. Modern science has drawn attention to spices’ medicinal qualities with research that shows certain spices — and specifically the chemical capsaicin, which gives chilis their burn -- help reduce inflammation, clear the respiratory tract, lower disease risk and do a whole bunch of other good stuff for the body. Taken all together, this body of work suggests that spices could have a “profound influence” on human health, the researchers wrote.
The catch: We don’t exactly know yet how or why this may be. This latest study doesn’t show that spicy food will lead to a longer life; it's merely correlative, rather than causal. What it does show is a relationship between spice and a healthy life -- and more research in this field will likely lead to more discoveries. And puns.
"Should people eat spicy food?” wrote Dr. Nita Forouh of the University of Cambridge in an editorial that accompanied the study. "It is too early to say, but the debate and the research interest are certainly [heating] up," she deadpanned.
Of course, you don't need many health reasons to seek out spice. The reason we've been using spices for so long is because they taste good. To feel a little fire on your tongue, check out this list of HuffPost’s favorite spicy soup recipes:
Spicy Soup Recipes