A large study across China has uncovered that eating spicy foods increases the risk of dementia, further calling into question the pertinent links between diet and cognitive function.
The China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS) examined 4,582 Chinese adults (> 55 years of age) over a 15-year period, finding an almost two-fold increase in the rate of cognitive decline in those who consumed more than 50 grams of chili a day.
The findings come in spite of the apparent benefits of capsaicin – the active component in chili – which has been previously praised for its effect on metabolism and fat loss, as well as the inhibition of vascular disorders. However, the CHNS is the first longitudinal study to investigate the association between chili intake and cognitive function.
“Chili consumption was found to be beneficial for body weight and blood pressure in our previous studies. However, in this study, we found adverse effects on cognition among older adults,” said Zumin Shi, who led the study alongside colleagues at Qatar University and the University of South Australia.
The researchers also pinpointed a stronger correlation between chili and dementia in consumers who had lower body mass indices, and/or in those more physically active. As such, the study hypothesised that people with normal body weights may be more sensitive to chili intake than overweight people.
Although further research is needed, the implications of spicy foods on brain health could have widespread impact, particularly in Asia. “In certain regions of China, such as Sichuan and Hunan, almost one in three adults consume spicy food every day,” added UniSA epidemiologist Ming Li, one of five researchers involved in the study.