Some like it hot…and healthy

Forget chia seeds in your yogurt. Try something hot, spicy…and healthy. It may just help extend your life. In fact, in a new study published in the prestigious British Medical Journal, researchers found people who favor hot and spicy flavors have a lower mortality risk.

For this study, researchers gathered health and dietary data on half a million men and women between the ages 30 and 79 years. They excluded men and women from the study with a prior history of cancer, heart disease or stroke. Researchers followed participants for an average seven years, during which time they recorded 20,000 deaths.

The participants came from 10 different regions in China, including Hunan and Szechuan, which boast very hot and spicy cuisine. (Cooking in other areas of China–such as Guangdong or Beijing–typically isn’t as hot and spicy.)

Overall, the researchers found men and women who reported eating spicy foods (such as fresh and dried hot chili pepper) at least three times per week were significantly less likely to die than those who ate hot, spicy foods less than once a week. They had a lower risk of mortality from cancer, Type II diabetes, and heart diseases as well as overall lower death rates.

The researchers also noticed a strong dose-response effect. In other words, the more spicy food a person ate on a regular basis, the further they lowered their mortality risk.

Yet even men and women who ate something spicy just once a week had a 10 percent lower risk of dying than those who ate something spicy less than once a week.

These results held up after accounting for age, education, exercise patterns, and marital status.

Of course, the study relied on survey data. So if a man said he ate something spicy three times a week, for example, the researchers took his word for it. Clearly, studies like this one that rely exclusively on participant surveys aren’t the most precise. (For example, no one remembers exactly what they ate over the last year. And some people “fudge” their answers. Of course, most government dietary data are also based on this kind of information) Nor did this study tell us just how spicy the food has to be in order to confer these health benefits.

But the findings make sense biologically.

In lab studies, researchers learned phytochemicals in peppers improve blood lipids, promote healthy probiotics in the GI tract, control inflammation, and reduce oxidative stress. Plus, other research shows hot spices are high in anti-oxidants that protect against cancer and heart disease.

For example, we know a lot about capsaicin, just one of the compounds in hot peppers. It controls control inflammation. And it’s particularly helpful for joint inflammation.

Some weight loss “gurus” say capsaicin from peppers can help you lose weight. But as I report in the September 2015 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, research shows men and women who take daily capsaicin for weight loss only cut 50 calories per day from their daily intake. You need to cut 500 to 1000 calories per day (10 to 20 times that amount) for meaningful weight loss. (In the September issue, I also reveal the scientific truth about other weight loss supplements and energy bars. If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you can access this current issue on my website at with your username and password. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.)

Many studies show other spices–such as curry and garlic–reduce blood lipids (blood fats), blood pressure, and inflammation as well. So these spices also protect against cancer and heart disease.

Over the years, many scientists have tried to credit green tea for China’s health and longevity. However, given the many problems of green tea I uncovered in the April 2014 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, I’m not surprised to find hot peppers–and not green tea–play such an important role in China.

Green tea just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In fact, during the 1980s I worked at the National Cancer Institute and we studied populations from Linxian, China. We found the practice of drinking piping hot tea caused damage to the esophagus and stomach that was associated with the development of GI cancers. Plus, in order to get the theoretical benefits claimed from lab studies, my own calculations show you would have to drink 16 cups per day–which could end up floating you through your day.

For this latest study, the authors cautioned we shouldn’t use their findings to assume hot peppers caused the improvements in mortality. But there’s no doubt about the link: Men and women who eat spicy foods have lower mortality.

So, instead of taking your green tea too hot, try taking your foods hot and spicy. After all, some like it hot!


  1. “Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause specific mortality: population based cohort study,” BMJ 2015; 351