I’ve met too many people who swear that eating spicy foods is dangerous. Patients often tell me they’ve giving up spicy foods to get healthy. When my wife and I let our kids eat something spicy, my in-laws shake their heads at us. However, last time I checked, having a little Tabasco sauce won’t ruin your life.
Nonetheless, there’s some confusion about whether spicy foods are healthy or dangerous. In this post, I want to shed some evidence-based light on eating spicy foods to separate fact from fiction.
Are spicy foods good for you? Of course they are!
Capsaicinoids, which include the compound capsaicin, are the chemical components of peppers that create their spicy taste. Research over the past couple of decades has demonstrated that capsaicinoids — and thus, spicy foods — also possess several health benefits.
What are the health benefits of spicy foods?
Eating spicy foods may help you live longer
According to an extensive population-based study published in BMJ in 2015, “Compared with those who ate spicy foods less than once a week, those who consumed spicy foods 6 or 7 days a week showed a 14 percent relative risk reduction in total mortality.” The association between spicy food consumption and total mortality “was stronger in those who did not consume alcohol than those who did.” It’s ok to eat your spicy foods, but cut down on the margaritas with your spicy tacos.
Can spicy foods cause ulcers?
Spicy foods don’t cause ulcers—they may actually help ulcers.
As a gastroenterologist, I diagnose people with ulcers all the time. When I tell someone they have an ulcer after a procedure, almost everyone is quick to blame spicy foods. People frequently ignore the fact they are taking ibuprofen ‘around the clock’ or that they may have a bacteria called H. Pylori (one of the world’s most common causes of ulcers).
Contrary to popular belief, multiple studies show that capsaicin actually inhibits acid production in the stomach. As a matter of fact, capsaicin has been considered as a medication for preventing ulcer development in people who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
If you’re worried about an ulcer, go see your friendly neighborhood gastrointestinal (GI) doc (you can look me up if you’re in Chicago). Most importantly, when seeing your doc, make sure you have a conversation about any anti-inflammatory meds you’re using.
Spicy foods don’t cause hemorrhoids, but they may irritate anal fissures
In 2006, in a study published in Diseases of the Colon and Rectum, researchers randomly assigned people with large hemorrhoids to taking a placebo capsule or a capsule of red hot chili powder. The participants had to rate the effects of the pills on their hemorrhoid symptoms. The study found that the spicy capsules had no effect on hemorrhoid symptoms.
The story is a little different for people with small tears in the anus called anal fissures. Anal fissures are extremely painful — ’make a grown adult cry’ painful. A study in 2008 demonstrated that spicy foods aggravate symptoms associated with anal fissures. In the study, patients were randomly given a week of placebo and a week of chili pepper capsules. They had to keep track of anal fissure symptoms over the study period. Eighty-one percent of the participants felt better on the placebo.
Can spicy food help you lose weight?
C’mon, hot sauce can help you lose weight? It can, according to a meta-analysis of 90 different studies that looked at the role of capsaicin in weight management. The analysis found spicy foods reduce appetite and that they increase energy expenditure. So, yes! Spicy food can help with weight loss.