Due in large part to First We Feast‘s addictive and inventive take on the interview talk show, Hot Ones, spicy food is certainly having yet another moment in popular culture.
While some people think black pepper is too punishing on the senses, there are those who can munch on ghost peppers like they’re eating simple crudité. But for most, something right in the middle is the perfect amount of heat.
Like with anything that you ingest, there are pros and cons. However, the long-lasting health benefits of eating spicy foods far outweigh the temporary sting you might feel in your gut after indulging in anything from chicken wings to Thai food.
Here are the five biggest health benefits of eating spicy food.
A group of 16,179 American adults participated in a public health study, which considered factors like age, sex, smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and other characteristics when attempting to uncover links to the so-called “Fountain of Youth.” Researchers found that those who regularly ate hot peppers reduced their risk of dying by a staggering 13 percent.
This new data echoes similar findings by a Chinese study that was conducted in 2015 which noted that having spicy food once or twice a week resulted in a 10 percent reduced overall risk of death while those that implemented it almost daily reduced the risk by 14 percent.
The active component of hot peppers, capsaicin, which gives peppers their characteristic heat, have anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce swelling in as effective a manner as ingesting an over-the-counter pill like ibuprofen or aspirin.
In a 2010 German study, joint pain decreased by nearly 50 percent for people after three weeks of using 0.05 percent capsaicin cream.
Capsaicin promotes the stimulation of brown fat —aiding in metabolism — which is key to ramp up when attempting to shed unwanted pounds.
From a more humanistic, “want and desire,” point of view, the active compound has also proven to be a major waistline warrior against cravings. Researchers at Purdue University found that consuming red pepper can help manage appetite and burn more calories after a meal, especially for individuals who do not consume the spice regularly.
“This finding should be considered a piece of the puzzle because the idea that one small change will reverse the obesity epidemic is simply not true. However, if a number of small changes are added together, they may be meaningful in terms of weight management,” the researchers said. “Dietary changes that don’t require great effort to implement, like sprinkling red pepper on your meal, may be sustainable and beneficial in the long run, especially when paired with exercise and healthy eating.”
Capsaicin has also shown the ability to dull the throb and ache of some nerve fibers that end in the skin and mucous membranes. It specifically targets a brain chemical known as “substance P,” which is essentially the chemical at play whenever we hurt ourselves.
According to researches at UC Davis, the same pathway in the body that responds to spicy food is also activated after injury or when the immune system mounts an inflammatory response to bacteria, viruses and autoimmune diseases.
While most people think of chilies in the context of oral consumption, it’s shown the most promise in being used as an active ingredient in ointments for those suffering from shingles and HIV-associated neuropathy.
In one study, researchers used capsaicin patches to treat a 24-year-old Libyan man who suffered major wounds after a bomb exploded. According to their findings, they were able to reduce his pain by 80 percent.
Getting High Without Getting High
Thanks to the aforementioned web show, Hot Ones, we can now witness, in full detail, stars from multiple fields tackle the 10-wing challenge. While most succumbed to tell-tale signs of distress like sweating, snot and tears, a large number of guests also have all experienced an outer body experience that they all describe as a “hot sauce high.” There’s a reason for this.
When someone eats something spicy, the brain is sent a message which it registers and catalogs as the same sensation if they were being burned by an external source. In turn, the capsaicinoids in the hot peppers help the body produce substance P — which transmits pain signals — and the brain responds by releasing endorphins which help deal with the symptoms. Finally still, dopamine is released — the natural occurring neurotransmitter that is targeted through illicit drug usage.
But in this case, you’re not depleting or exploiting the reward center in your brain with any substances that will do any long lasting harm. On the contrary, you may be experiencing a high not dissimilar to a runner’s high.
Next up, here are the 10 most annoying things people do at the gym.
- Illustrations: Stephen Cheetham