Well Blog Editor, VitaMedica
Each day, we are reminded to adopt healthy dietary and lifestyle habits to extend our health span. But, what about extending our lifespan? Is there anything we could be doing to live longer? Data from a large study suggests that just by eating spicy foods regularly throughout the week will lead to a longer life.
The study used data from over 485,000 participants aged 30 – 79 years enrolled in the China Kadoorie Biobank†. All participants completed a questionnaire about their general health, physical measurements and consumption of foods including spicy foods, red meat, vegetables and alcohol.
“The rates of heart disease, respiratory disease and cancers were all lower in hot-food eaters.”
Participants were followed for about 7 years. At the end of the study, there were 20,224 deaths.
Factors such as age, marital status, level of education and physical activity were controlled for. Compared with participants who ate spicy foods less than once week, those who ate these foods 1 or 2 days a week had a 10 percent reduced overall risk for death. In participants who ate spicy foods 3 to 5 and 6 or 7 days a week, the risk was reduced by 14 percent.
The association was similar in men and women and was stronger in those who did not drink alcohol. Fresh chili seemed to improve the changes of longevity compared with dry spices.
While more evidence is needed, researchers speculated that capsaicin – the active constituent in chili peppers that gives chiles their hot flavor – may have contributed to the effect. Capsaicin has been found in other studies to have antioxidant, anti-obesity, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
Capsaicin is the active ingredient used in a number of topical medications such as Capzasin Topical Analgesic Gel and Zotrix to help relieve minor pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis or muscle sprains and strains. Capsaicin topical is also used to treat nerve pain (neuralgia) in people who have had herpes zoster, or “shingles.”
Topical capsaicin causes a sensation of heat that activates certain nerve cells. With regular use of capsaicin, this heating effect reduces the amount of substance P, a chemical that acts as a pain messenger in the body.
How to Add More Capsaicin to Your Life
Now that you know capsaicin might extend your lifespan, the next question is how to incorporate more of this spice into your recipes. Spicy Roasted Cauliflower uses dried cayenne pepper, chili pepper and paprika (all three are a source of capsaicin) and Hatch Chiles are a natural source of this compound.
Spicy Roasted Cauliflower
I love this recipe because it provides a tasty new way to combine the super veggie cauliflower (the new darling vegetable after kale) with several health-promoting spices including turmeric, cayenne pepper, chili pepper, paprika, cumin and curry.
You can also make a variation of this recipe by using Harissa, a hot sauce or paste used in North African cuisine, made from chili peppers, paprika, and olive oil. Most grocery stores sell Harissa but you can also purchase online.
1 Head of Cauliflower (white, yellow or purple)
¼ teaspoon Turmeric
¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper or Chili Pepper
¼ teaspoon Paprika
¼ teaspoon Cumin
¼ teaspoon Curry
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place racks in middle of the oven.
Remove outer leaves from the cauliflower head. Cut away the cauliflower florets from the stem, cutting into similar size pieces. Rinse cauliflower florets with water and shake any excess water.
In a large bowl, add about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the spices, freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. With a whisk, mix the oil and spices together.
Toss the cauliflower florets into bowl and coat evenly with the spice/oil mix. Pour coated cauliflower into a roasting pan. Roast for about 30 minutes or until soft but not mushy.
Hatch chiles, members of the capsicum family, are grown in an area near Hatch, New Mexico. The soil and conditions in the valley create a chile with a very distinctive flavor.
Hatch chiles can be used to spice up recipes including chili, stews and cornbread. The green chile pepper flavor is lightly pungent similar to garlic with a subtly sweet, spicy, crisp and smoky taste. The ripened red, retains the flavor but adds an earthiness and bite while aging mellows the front-heat and delivers more of a back-heat. The spiciness depends on the variety of New Mexico chile type peppers.
Each year in early autumn, you may be lucky enough to find fresh-roasted Hatch chiles at your neighborhood market. If Hatch chiles are not available at a store nearby, you can order on websites like The Hatch Chile Store. But, the season is short so order now as by September this year’s harvest will be done.
† The China Kadoorie Biobank is set up to investigate the main genetic and environmental causes of common chronic diseases in the Chinese population. During 2004-8, over 510,000 adults were recruited from 10 geographically defined regions of China, with extensive data collection by questionnaire and physical measurements, and with long-term storage of blood samples for future study.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.