You probably had asked this question often because you just did not understand why some foods are so spicy. To you, peppers and certain spices can be avoided entirely and the heavens will not fall. Food does not have to be spicy to be delicious. Or maybe you are on the other side of this table. You cannot imagine why some meals do not have that hot feel and taste. You can add pepper sauce to almost anything you eat. You probably did not even think that there may be an advantage spicy food confers on the brain. You just enjoy eating spicy foods. Well, it is time to find out if there are any benefits with eating spicy food.
But before we go on, what are spicy foods? Spicy foods are meals that produce a hot sensation on the taste buds of the tongue. Sometimes, this hot sensation is strangely pleasurable. Foods that are considered spicy are made with peppers, chillies and spices. Spicy foods have a range of benefits from weight loss to pain improvement, cancer management, digestion and even heart disease.
Eating spicy food like chili peppers can help improve blood flow and help improve neural connections, this is due to a chemical called apigenin. This has been known to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia
How spicy food strengthens brain connections
The brain is the seat of memory, information processing and learning. The brain receives information from nerve receptors that create a stimulus. These signals are then transmitted through neurons that are connected to one another in the brain. This is basically how information is received, processed, stored and sent to different parts of the body to ensure optimal function. Chilli peppers, which are the major components of spicy foods can help strengthen neural connections. This is because they contain an organic compound called Apigenin.
Apigenin is a flavonoid (naturally-occurring chemical in plants) that has immense benefits on brain function. Apigenin helps to improve memory and learning. This is why spicy foods can be used to treat mental health disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Schizophrenia and so on. Research has shown that Apigenin acts as nutrients with immense benefits on immunity and mental function. Apigenin also has anti-carcinogenic properties. But the ability of apigenin to induce and improve brain function is remarkable, according to a study conducted to assess the mechanism of apigenin on stem cells. It was discovered that upon addition of apigenin to stem cells, the stem cells changed to neurons that had formed exceptionally strong bonds between each other.
When neurons have strong bonds between them, signals are transmitted faster. This makes the brain perform optimally, and illnesses that can affect memory are prevented. Apigenin also influences the mechanism of action of estrogen.
Estrogen is important in the development and function of the nerves. This also helps create neurons with strong synapses, preventing development of mental health disorders.
Lastly, apigenin helps in ensuring proper maturation of neurons in the brain. If there is a neurological disorder, apigenin also influences the repair of damaged neurons. The formation of new neurons and repair of damaged neurons contribute to the neuroplasticity of the brain. Neuroplasticity also impacts learning and memory in a positive way.
How spicy foods help you live longer
Spicy foods do not only help strengthen neural connections in the brain; they also ensure longevity of life. A study conducted monitored participants who ate spicy foods and compared them with participants who consumed little or no spicy food led to an interesting result. It showed that there was a significant reduction in the rate of risk of death in those that consumed spicy foods. Those that consumed spicy foods (containing chilli peppers) had their risk of death reduced by up to 14%.
This study was conducted in China and the lowered risk of death was attributed to the presence of Capsaicin, a major compound in chilli pepper. Capsaicin has a remarkable rate of reducing cholesterol and triglycerides which have detrimental effects on the body. Capsaicin also helps inflammation, which is the response of the body to an attack on the immune system. Inflammation helps the body fight infections and diseases by repairing damaged tissue.
This benefit is not just exclusive to the Asian continent. Americans have also taken a cue. In one study conducted in the US, there was a reduction in total mortality rate by up to 13% in participants that consumed red chilli peppers. This rate was noticed in deaths caused by heart diseases and stroke. The study showed that capsaicin not only helps in breaking down cholesterol, but it also helps the gastrointestinal system by promoting growth of healthy microorganisms in the gut. This helps to aid digestion and also improve blood flow.
Breaking down cholesterol in the blood helps to prevent obesity and health problems that are associated with being overweight. Having a healthy gut also ensures that you eat at the right time; your appetite is controlled and this helps to keep you healthy for a long time.
Eating spicy foods also help in ensuring healthy eyesight and formation of healthy red blood cells, and preventing anemia.
How much should you eat to get benefits?
You might be thinking how much you should be eating to gain these benefits, this depends on how well you can handle the burning sensation, and if you have other health conditions. So, let me just go straight to the point.
If you are a beginner with spicy foods, meaning that you cannot really handle the “heat” that comes with peppers; it is advisable that you incorporate peppers and spicy foods into your meals at least 2 to 3 times a week. And it is advisable that you do this consistently to get the health benefits of spicy foods. After a while, you will not only enjoy the health benefits of spicy foods, your palate will also adjust to the heat. You will realize that it becomes easier to eat spicy foods as you go on. When you get to this level, you can increase the consumption of spicy foods.
The acceptable limit of consumption of spicy foods is 6 to 7 times a week. If you consume peppers and spicy foods this regularly, you will most likely enjoy most of the benefits that the phytonutrients present in peppers have to offer. In fact, in the study conducted on participants that consumed spicy foods in China that resulted in a 14% reduction in risk of death; it was discovered that the participants consumed spicy foods at least 6 to 7 times a week.
A high rate of consumption of spicy foods can lead to detrimental effects. Even though I have highlighted the frequency at which you can consume peppers, how much can you consume at one go? The answer to this question is, as much as you can handle.
Our taste buds are wired differently due to genetics, environment, upbringing and certain other factors. Thus, some individuals can eat hot peppers and spicy foods without breaking a sweat. Whereas some others cannot even handle a slight taste of pepper without consuming at least 3 glasses of water. This does not mean that you should go overboard with consumption if you can handle the hot sensation that comes with spicy foods.
What are the side effects of eating spicy food?
There are side effects that come with consuming spicy food at an abnormally high level. In fact, if you have underlying health conditions, you need to confirm with your doctor (or nutritionist) before consuming spicy foods. This does not mean that you might not be able to consume spicy foods (except in extreme cases), but it is better to be safe. Some of the side effects of eating spicy foods include;
Spicy foods can sometimes trigger abdominal pain and ulcer in certain individuals. In patients that have constipation or indigestion, consuming spicy foods can cause heartburns too.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Spicy foods must be consumed with caution by patients suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. A study conducted showed that those who consume spicy foods up to or more than 10 times weekly are more likely to have Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Spicy foods can also trigger inflammation in the bowels, especially in patients suffering from Crohn’s disease.
This is not necessarily a side effect. It is just something to watch out for. You might not be able to handle the hot sensation, and rush to drink water. This might lead to you choking. I’ll advise that you breathe slowly as you drink water to ease the burning sensation caused by spicy foods.
Spicy foods do not necessarily cause these diseases. They only trigger symptoms. I must also reiterate it again that when consuming spicy foods, you must be careful to avoid overconsumption and choking. But you can never go wrong when you include spicy foods in your diet. Start today (that is if you haven’t already started), and thank us later!