Chili: Another Spicy Food to Help Control Your Metabolism

September 24, 2006

Chili: Another Spicy Food to Help Control Your Metabolism 

Competency # 5  The Way to Eat                        ReferenceAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July, 2006 

 “HOT” off the presses.  Chilies turn out to be a winning spice.  We have talked about how turmeric might be key to preserving your brain and preventing Alzheimer’s.  Cinnamon, garlic, and ginger all have their own claims to fame.  Now you can add Chilies.  Hurray.  Being a chili-head and having secretly smuggled in Tabasco sauce to restaurants for years, I can now proceed with impunity.  All of us spicy food lovers can celebrate and get down to business of openly putting a shaker of chili sauce right there next to the salt and pepper on your dining room table. 

 Here are the facts.  In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July, 2006 is a wonderful little study from Australia where chilies were added to a bland diet.  The study design started with measuring how the study participants did for four weeks without any spicy food.  Then, they did a randomized crossover study in which they added chilies to their diet, either in the form of a chili at the end of a meal, or of a meal containing chili.  They measured glucose, insulin levels, C-peptide (looking for systemic inflammation).  

What they found was a remarkable reduction in the amount of insulin it took to control your blood sugar.  And the bigger their subjects were, the better it worked.  There is a working theory that our refined “bland” diet wears out our pancreas glands and we lose the ability to secrete enough insulin.  All of our white foods (bread, potatoes, rice, pasta) are forms of glucose in long strings we call carbohydrates: and all require insulin to control their metabolism.  That leads to a gradual rise in glucose in our blood, and that turns into diabetes and all the destruction diabetes causes on our blood vessels in the form of heart attacks and strokes.  Any strategy to control our sugar in our blood with a little less insulin release will add to our long-term well-being. 

 The mechanism of how this worked wasn’t studied in this research.  (There was not an increase in energy expenditure or, as my spouse would claim: running around flapping your arms looking for water.) But here is another “spice” that is brightly colored.  It appears that capsaicin must have an effect heretofore unknown.  But the effect was clear.  Adding a chili to your meal lowers the amount of insulin your body has to put out to control your sugar.  More on this story to come.  No other food does this so a whole new arena for study and research opens up. 

www. What Will Work for Me?  I still can’t add Tabasco  “until I taste it”.  And I’m trying to try other forms of chili that don’t have as much salt in them.  I enjoy spicy food.  Maybe I’ll order the medium spicy Thai curry instead of the bland next time.  This appears to be another of the spices that have a great effect on our metabolism that we can all enjoy.  After all, getting lucky over age 50 means someone else cooks your dinner.  So maybe you can still add spice to your life and enjoy health benefits from it as well.

This column is written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD,Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)