Are Chili Pepper Lovers At Higher Risk for Cognitive Decline?

For many years we have heard of the many health benefits of chili peppers but a new study warns that a spicy diet might also be linked with a higher risk for dementia. In this new study, researchers form Qatar, Australia, and, of course, the United States, tracked the health data on 4,582 Chinese adults over the age of 55 from 1991 to 2006.  

In this study, the researchers observed chili intake, including fresh chili as well as dried chili pepper preparations but not sweet capsicum or black pepper varieties. They assessed this chili consumption at least six times over the course of the study, observing a dietary intake record of three days.  With that as the baseline, the researchers also observed cognitive function four times over the course of the 15-year study period. 

Apparently, the study demonstrated that those who consistently at at least 50 grams of chili, per day, appeared to have nearly twice the risk of memory decline and poor condition compared with those who did not consume chili at all.  They also found—though did not necessarily correlate—memory decline appeared to be stronger among study participants with a lower body mass index than those with higher BMI.

According to lead study author Dr. Zumin Shi, “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.”

Furthermore, study participants who ate a larger amount of chili also had a tendency towards lower income and lower BMI, and also seemed to be more physically active than those who did not eat chili.  As such, the researchers suggest that people of normal body weight could have more sensitivity to the effects of chili than those with a few extra pounds; this could explain how chili impacts memory and weight. 

All this in mind, the researchers advise they still do not fully understand the potential link between chili intake and cognitive function.  Indeed, more studies are necessary, particularly since chili is among the most commonly used spices around the world.  As a matter of fact, as many as one in three adults consume chili on a daily basis, in certain regions of China; though it is still quite popular in other communities all over the world.