Warning to spicy food lovers as scientists link spicy diet to dementia

Scientists are warning those who love spicy food to think twice before adding that extra dollop of chilli or jalapeno pepper to their meal, after research linked a spicy diet to dementia.

Scientists from Qatar University and the University of South Australia carried out a 15-year study of 4,582 Chinese adults aged over 55 and found evidence of faster cognitive decline in those who consistently ate more than 50 grams of chilli a day. If the chilli eaters were slim, memory decline was even more pronounced.

The study, led by Dr Zumin Shi from Qatar University, showed people who ate in excess of 50 grams of chilli a day had almost double the risk of memory decline and poor cognition.

“Chilli 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,” said Dr Zumin Shi.

Dr Ming Li, an epidemiologist from the University of South Australia, one of five researchers involved in the study, said chilli intake included both fresh and dried chilli peppers but not sweet capsicum or black pepper.

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

People who ate a lot of chilli had a lower income and body mass index (BMI) and were more physically active compared to those who didn’t.

This is the first longitudinal study to investigate the link between chilli intake and cognitive function. The paper 'High chili intake and cognitive function among 4582 adults' is published in Nutrients.

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