Spicy Foods Help You Live Longer

August 10, 2015

Spicy Foods Help You Live Longer 

 Reference: British Medical Journal, August 2015 

 Hurray!   Tabasco Sauce, Sriracha Sauce, Cholula Sauce, …. is on the menu again.   In a study from China following 487,735 people for 7.2 years (that’s a lot of people years) we find that eating spicy foods, particularly using chilies, adds years to your life. In fact, eating spicy foods twice a week reduces your risk of death from heart disease and cancer 10%.   If you raise it to 4-7 times, you get a 14% boost.   Even once a week gets you some improvement. 

 This news made almost every media channel this last week.   The taste of chili has been spreading across America and more and more of us are beginning to add a bit of “piquant” to our recipes.   And some of us just slather it on. 

 What’s the mechanism? Turns out chilies are pretty interesting little devils.   Capsaicin, the not chemical of chilies, is probably the responsible party.   In a recent focused article also in the BMJ the authors review the potential for capsaicin to be helpful in heart disease.   Capsaicin stimulates the TRPV1 receptor. (Transient receptor potential vanilloid 1)   This is the receptor on your lips that goes nuts when you eat chilies.   That receptor is a pain receptor in your mouth. The TRPV receptor is also in your liver, your blood vessels, your fat cells, T cells, Mast cells, fat cells – lots of places, and in each of them you turn the cell “on” by increasing calcium influx into the cell. 

In blood vessels, this effect turns on Nitric Oxide production, which results in your blood vessels being stretchier and your blood pressure lower.   And in turns on Nrf2 responsive proteins to help the anti-oxidant effect of Nrf2 activating foods. Capsaicin also activates Uncoupling Protein 2.   This protein helps electrons shuttle down the electron transport chain without really making energy. Instead they make heat.   But more importantly, by uncoupling, you reduce the oxidative stress on the blood vessels. Blood vessels see the stress of too much sugar first. Protecting them from that stress is very helpful, and may be why chilies reduce the risk for heart disease. 

 How about cancer? Well, we’ve been hearing reports for years.   Prostate cancer seems to be responsive. In this study, 80% of cancer cells got nudged over to natural cell death instead of living longer.   In stomach cancer, the Enox proteins seem to be inhibited by capsaicin. This may be behind the effectiveness found by the Morres of the combination of Capsaicin and EGCG combined. 

 How about Alzheimer’s? Yup.   On a rat model of Alzheimer’s less plaque formation resulted with eating capsaicin. Indians who eat a lot of spicy curry have some 80% less Alzheimer’s.   May be from the curcumin, or maybe the chilies play a role too. 

 This is an epidemiological study. It is not causation.   They did control for age, gender, education, marital status, alcohol, tobacco, and every other variable they could think of and still showed those robust findings.   To show “proof” we need a randomized placebo-controlled trial of cause and effect. And considering that chilies are cheap and abundant, that won’t happen soon. No money or profit to be made. 

 WWW. What will work for me? 7 days a week for me. I put “Slap Ya Momma” Cajun hot spice on my eggs for breakfast. I find that if you start getting used to it, it’s addictive and you want more and more. And this study suggests you are on a good path when you do that.   With all the great Mexican, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese and Korean restaurants around, surely you can find something spicy you like.   

 Pop Quiz

  1. Capsaicin seems to help make blood vessels stretchier? T or F                      Answer:  True
  1. If you eat two spicy meals a week, you live 10% longer. T or F                     Answer:  False. Trick question. You have a 10% lower risk of dying. It might be the same, but not quite.
  1. If you have “spicy” food more than 4 times a week, you raise that benefit higher. T or F      Answer:  Yup. 14%
  1. This is almost a good a benefit as exercise every day. T or F                     Answer:  Nope. But half as good is still pretty good.   Exercise gets you as much as 30-40% once you get fit. Imagine jogging with a jug of Sriracha sauce.
  1. Prostate cancer cells have been shown to spiral into cell death with capsaicin. T or F.       Answer:    True