Think Twice Before Adding That Spice: Grown-Ups Who Eat More Than 50 G Of Chili Per Day 'Face A Higher Risk Of Memory Loss'

Jul 30, 2019

Curries, chilies and Szechuan sauce - these spicy foods might be enjoyed by billions around the globe, but experts are now saying there just might be a link between consuming spicy foods and memory loss. 

A 2019 study conducted in China showed that high chili consumption was positively associated with cognitive decline.

Researchers at Qatar University and from the University of Southern Australia found that people who ate 50 g or more of chili per day were much more likely to experience poor memory. The landmark study included more than 4,500 people. The researchers don't understand why this troubling link to poor memory exists; conflicting studies suggest that chili pepper's active ingredient capsaicin can aid the memory.

However, high amounts of capsaicin are used therapeutically to dull the nerves that are causing pain.

The researchers, therefore, conclude that capsaicin could affect the viability of the nerve tissue. But researchers also warn this theory is merely speculative at this point. In any case, animal studies concerning capsaicin's relationship to cognitive function produced mixed results, suggesting too much capsaicin may be 'neurotoxic'.

Chili peppers are one of the most commonly used spices the world over, with chili use being especially high across Asia.

Co-author of the Chinese study Dr. Ming Li states: “In certain regions of China, such as Sichuan and Hunan, almost one in three adults consume spicy food every day.”

The researchers analyzed more than 4,500 adults over the age of 55, between 1991 and 2006 as part of the China Health and Nutrition Survey. More than 3,000 study participants had their memory function tested every three years. The test involved recalling 10 words on a list and counting backward from 20. Study participants also rated their memories from 'very good' to 'very bad'.

The amount of chili eaten was also monitored with a questionnaire during each test. This included both dried and fresh chilis, but not black pepper. Test results revealed the more chili a participant consumed, the worse their memory. Shockingly, when compared to people who never ate chili, people who ate 50 g or more per day had more than twice the self-reported memory loss.

The risk of memory loss was greatest among participants with a low body mass index (BMI), which researchers considered 'borderline significant'. Oddly, people who are underweight or have a healthy BMI could be more susceptible to the adverse effects of chili than heavier people. Participants who consumed large amounts of chili were also lower-income and engaged in more physical work, as opposed to those who did not eat chili.

Fortunately, other researchers assure chili lovers that they don't need to give up the hot sauce yet.

“Chili consumption was found to be beneficial for body weight and blood pressure in our previous studies,” Dr. Zumin Shi, lead author of the study said. “However, in this study, we found adverse effects on cognition among older adults.”

Capsaicin has been proven to increase metabolism, increase weight loss and forestall strokes and vascular disorders. Sadly, dementia affects more than 825,000 people in the UK alone, according to the Alzheimer's Society. Likewise, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association claims that in the USA, more than 5 1/2 million people live with Alzheimer's.

Research manager at the Alzheimer's Society, Dr. Clare Walton, stated that:

'With global dementia figures rising, understanding risk factors, especially those relevant to large populations like China, is certainly a hot topic to help us develop prevention strategies – something our researchers are working on all the time. But there were so many differences between the chilli lovers and abstainers in this study that it doesn’t give any conclusive evidence that eating spicy food will increase your risk of dementia.”

Further research is definitely needed to ascertain the link between eating chili and possible dementia. You don't need to avoid the hot sauce altogether just yet. Please show this important article to all of your chili-loving friends and family members!

Our content is created to the best of our knowledge, yet it is of general nature and cannot in any way substitute an individual consultation by your doctor. Your health is important to us!