Examining the Impact of Spicy Food on Long-Term Health

by Ella

Spicy food, characterized by its fiery flavors and often invigorating heat, has long been a topic of discussion when it comes to its potential health consequences. The scientific community remains divided on whether spicy cuisine can have positive or negative effects on one’s well-being. As we explore the realm of spicy foods, we also consider a tragic incident that brought the consumption of ultra-hot peppers into question.

In September 2023, a 14-year-old boy tragically passed away after undertaking the viral “one chip challenge.” This challenge involved consuming a chip infused with Carolina Reaper and Naga Viper peppers, some of the world’s spiciest varieties. While health officials continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the boy’s death, it has led to the removal of certain super-spicy chips from store shelves.


With a background as an epidemiologist, I’m intrigued by how spicy food can influence individuals’ health and potentially exacerbate symptoms related to chronic conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. My focus extends to examining how dietary choices, including the consumption of spicy foods, might impact an individual’s lifespan.


Spicy food can encompass dishes rich in flavor derived from a variety of spices, such as Asian curries, Tex-Mex favorites, or Hungarian paprikash. It can also refer to dishes with an unmistakable heat, stemming from capsaicin, a chemical compound found in varying degrees in hot peppers.


As the capsaicin content in peppers increases, so does their position on the Scoville scale, a measure of their spiciness.


The sensation of heat associated with capsaicin arises from its activation of biological pathways in mammals, the same pathways triggered by high temperatures. Consuming spicy food can lead to the release of endorphins and dopamine in the body, often resulting in a sense of relief and even euphoria.

In the United States, the United Kingdom, and numerous other regions, more people than ever are indulging in spicy foods, including the hottest pepper varieties.

While the tradition of consuming hot peppers and engaging in spicy food challenges isn’t new, these challenges have surged in popularity on social media platforms. They now feature increasingly scorching spice levels.

The immediate effects of consuming exceptionally spicy foods can range from pleasurable warmth to an uncomfortable burning sensation across the lips, tongue, and mouth. Additionally, these foods may lead to various forms of digestive discomfort, headaches, and even vomiting.

For individuals who find spicy foods uncomfortable to consume, causing symptoms such as migraines, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, it is advisable to avoid such dishes. Spicy food could indeed exacerbate these issues, particularly for those with inflammatory bowel diseases.

Setting spicy food challenges aside, for many individuals worldwide, the consumption of spicy cuisine is embedded in a long-term lifestyle shaped by geography and culture. The prevalence of hot peppers in regions with warm climates might explain the widespread use of spicy foods in their culinary traditions. Research even suggests that spicy foods can assist in safeguarding against foodborne illnesses, providing a potential rationale for cultural preferences.

Nutritional epidemiologists have long been researching the potential risks and benefits associated with the long-term consumption of spicy foods. Their investigations have explored a wide array of outcomes, including the relationship between spicy food consumption and conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heartburn, ulcers, psychological well-being, pain sensitivity, and all-cause mortality, referring to death from any cause.

These studies yield mixed results, with certain outcomes, like heartburn, displaying a stronger connection to the consumption of spicy foods. As is typical in an evolving field, some experts hold firmer positions on certain health effects than others. For example, it is confidently asserted by some experts that spicy food does not cause stomach ulcers, while the association with stomach cancer remains less clear.

In contemplating the broader picture of heart disease, cancer, and overall mortality, does the consumption of spicy food elevate or reduce the risk of premature death?

Presently, data gleaned from extensive population-based studies suggests that the consumption of spicy food does not heighten the risk of all-cause mortality and might, in fact, lower it.

Nevertheless, when interpreting the outcomes of these studies, it is essential to acknowledge that dietary choices form only one aspect of a broader set of lifestyle factors that influence health. Factors such as physical activity, relative body weight, and the consumption of tobacco and alcohol also play a significant role in an individual’s overall well-being.

Accurately assessing dietary and lifestyle factors in a population-based study is challenging because individuals do not always accurately recall or report their exposures. Determining how a dietary component influences a specific aspect of health often necessitates the completion of numerous studies conducted over an extended period.

While many questions remain regarding why some individuals relish spicy foods while others do not, hypotheses abound concerning evolutionary, cultural, geographic, medical, biological, and psychological factors.

One incontrovertible fact is that humans are among the few species that will knowingly consume something spicy enough to cause discomfort, all in pursuit of culinary pleasure.

In conclusion, the multifaceted nature of the relationship between spicy food and health continues to intrigue scientists and food enthusiasts alike. While the consumption of extremely spicy foods can result in various short-term sensations, the evidence from large-scale studies suggests that, in the long term, spicy food does not increase the risk of all-cause mortality and may even offer some protective benefits. Nevertheless, the interplay of dietary choices with other lifestyle factors should not be overlooked, as they collectively shape an individual’s well-being. The allure of spicy foods remains a fascinating aspect of human culinary exploration, and ongoing research will undoubtedly shed further light on this complex connection.



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