Mild sauce, clear mind? Spicy diet linked to dementia, study finds

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Here’s something to consider the next time you’re thinking about ordering a spicy dish: a new long-term international study has found that a spicy diet could lead to dementia.

According to the study, older adults over the age of 55 who consumed more than 50 grams of chili per day displayed nearly double the risk of developing poor cognition and a decline in overall memory. Interestingly, slimmer adults indulging in a spicy diet exhibited even more significant memory loss.

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

Researchers analyzed the chili intake of 4,582 Chinese adults over the course of 15 years. Fresh and dried chili pepper consumption was tracked, but sweet capsicum and black pepper were not included in the study.

In general, study subjects who ate more spicy food had a lower income, less body mass, and exercised more frequently than those who preferred more mild flavors. This has led researchers to theorize that skinnier people are more susceptible to chili intake than overweight people, which would explain why skinnier adults displayed more prominent memory loss.

“Chili is one of the most commonly used spices in the world and particularly popular in Asia compared to European countries,” co-researcher Dr. Ming Li says. “In certain regions of China, such as Sichuan and Hunan, almost one in three adults consume spicy food every day.”

Capsaicin has already been shown to speed up the metabolism, promote fat loss, and hinder vascular disorders, but this is the first time its impact on cognitive functioning has been investigated.

The study’s authors say that more research is necessary on the connection between chili pepper and dementia, and admit that other variables, such as education levels, may also play a role in cognitive decline.

The study is published in the scientific journal Nutrients.

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