A study of nearly 500,000 Chinese people over seven years, published in the British Medical Journal, found those who ate spicy food three times a week were 14 per cent less likely to die early than those who did not.
Although Harvard University researchers say they cannot definitively say hot food has a protective effect, they say the find paves the way for more research which could lead to new dietary recommendations.
Fresh and dried chilli peppers were the most commonly used spices in those who reported eating spicy foods each week, and further analysis showed those who consumed fresh chilli tended to have a lower risk of death from cancer, ischaemic heart disease, and diabetes. Fresh chilli is packed full of nutrients, vitamins and capsaicin, which are thought to fight cancer, inflammation and obesity.
But Dr Nita Forouhi, of the University of Cambridge, said it was still too early to tell whether it was the food itself, or other behaviours of those eating it, which was causing the effect.
“Research is needed to establish whether spicy food consumption has the potential to improve health and reduce mortality directly or if it is merely a marker of other dietary and lifestyle factors,” said Dr Forouhi.
Dr Amelia Lake, lecturer in knowledge exchange in public health at Durham University, said a balanced diet was the key to good health.
“The take-home message is to carry on with a balanced, varied diet where spice may have some benefits.”