Eating This Type of Food a Lot Makes Your Dementia Risk Soar, Study Says
Sitting down to a meal of your favorite type of dish can sometimes be the highlight of your whole day. Unfortunately, it's a well-known fact that being too indulgent with certain kinds of foods can be bad for your health, no matter how much you may crave them at all hours. Typically, this involves avoiding foods high in fat or cholesterol for the sake of your heart. But it may not just be cardiovascular disease you should be worried about, as research has also shown that eating too much of one type of food could raise your risk of dementia. Read on to see what you might want to consider eating sparingly.
In a study published in the May 2019 issue of the scientific journal Nutrients, a team of researchers looked at the diets of 4,582 adults in China and analyzed the amount of chili they ate over 15 years. For the purposes of the study, the team included both fresh and dried chili peppers towards consumption but excluded sweet capsicum peppers—AKA bell peppers—and black pepper from their counts.
Results found that those in the study over the age of 55 who ate more than 50 grams of chili each day saw their risk of cognitive decline, memory problems, and dementia nearly double. Data also found that skinnier participants were more likely to suffer memory loss if they ate a diet heavy in spicy foods.
When analyzing the diet data, the team also noticed another similarity: Participants who ate a lot of chilies were more likely to have a lower income and a lower body mass index (BMI) while also being more likely to exercise than those whose diets contained less chili. As such, the researchers theorized that people with more average BMI might be more sensitive to eating chilis than those with high BMIs, which might explain why skinnier participants were more likely to suffer memory decline.
"Chili consumption was found to be beneficial for body weight and blood pressure in our previous studies," Zumin Shi, PhD, the study's leader from Qatar University, concluded in a statement. "However, in this study, we found adverse effects on cognition among older adults."
According to the researchers, capsaicin is the active spicy chemical component in chili that has been found in previous studies to speed up metabolism, promote fat loss, and help promote vascular health. However, they noted that this was the first wide-ranging study that probed the possible connection between spicy chili consumption and dementia.
The team also emphasized that the findings could have potential implications in certain areas where spicy foods are a common staple of the local diet. "Chili is one of the most commonly used spices in the world and particularly popular in Asia compared to European countries," Ming Li, PhD, an epidemiologist from the University of South Australia who was involved with the study, said in a statement. "In certain regions of China, such as Sichuan and Hunan, almost one in three adults consume spicy food every day."
Still, some outside experts pointed out the study needed more research to back up its findings. "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," Clare Walton, MD, Research Manager at Alzheimer's Society, said in a statement. "Further research is needed to confirm a link between chili and dementia so, for now, there's no need to avoid the hot sauce."
Contrary to the results of the study at hand, other research has found that spicy food can have considerable health benefits in other parts of the body. In one such large study, researchers analyzed data from over 4,729 studies from five leading global health databases, ultimately amassing the dietary records of more than 570,000 subjects from China, Iran, Italy, and the United States. The findings showed that compared to people who rarely or never ate chili peppers, those who were fans of the spicy vegetable saw a 23 percent relative reduction in cancer-related deaths, a 26 percent reduction in deaths from cardiovascular events, and a 25 percent reduction in early deaths overall.
"We were surprised to find that in these previously published studies, regular consumption of chili pepper was associated with an overall risk-reduction of all-cause, CVD [cardiovascular], and cancer mortality," Bo Xu, MD, senior study author and cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic's Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute in Ohio said in a statement. "It highlights that dietary factors may play an important role in overall health."