They say that variety is the spice of life, but what does that make spicy food the life... of variety? Yeah, that sounds kind of plausible, I guess. Put that on a T-shirt! Not all of us can properly enjoy spicy food while others take inexplicable pride in stuffing eight peppers into their mouth at once, but I like to think me and chilli are pretty chill.
I'll sprinkle hot sauce on my eggs some times. I eat my pizza with jalapeños and sriracha mayonnaise. I listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But could that love of things spicy actually help me to live forever?
Probably not - any fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is not long for this world - but a new study suggests spicy food could have an effect on how long you live. Muy caliente indeed.
This is per a study from two of the world's foremost experts on spice, who are particularly interested in the positive effects that capsaicin (the active ingredient in spicy food) can have on you. While your eyes water, beads of sweat form on your forehead and tons of fluids otherwise leak from your head, something rather interesting goes on in your body when you eat spicy foods.
A paper published in BMJ looked at the effects of spicy food in China, looking at data from around half a million Chinese adults. For those that ate spicy food between three and seven times a week, the results showed that they were about 14 percent less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease, and lived longer overall than their non-spice-eating counterparts.
David Popovich, a self-professed lover of spice and a leading researcher on the effects of capsaicin at Massey University in New Zealand, conducted his own experiment using cancer cells and spicy foods. He found something pretty weird: when he added capsaicin to the cancer cells, their growth reduced.
Scientists don't exactly know why capsaicin has this effect on cancer cells, but Popovich has a theory of his own: that Tabasco, jalapeños and other spicy food trigger a process called apoptosis, which is a kind of cell 'suicide' where cells -cancer cells included - are encouraged to recycle and turn into new cells.
"That’s one of the ways scientists think capsaicin and other active compounds in vegetables can prevent cancer development: by stimulating apoptotic cell death."
"The bottom line is that any kind of vegetable material you consume will improve your health," Popovich explains. "But hot peppers are really beneficial for you, if you can take the spice." He added that if you'd like to experience the best effects from capsaicin, you're best off pairing your spicy food with a bit of oil.
"Capsaicin is a fat-soluble molecule," says Popovich, so by eating spicy food with something delicious and oily first - say, a bowl of french fries or a pizza - you can stave off the Grim Reaper for longer. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to have a large, spicy pizza.
It'll help me live forever, y'see.