The number of dementia cases is expected to triple by 2050 as the world’s populations age. However, age is not the only driver of cognitive decline. Research has also linked chili peppers to a higher risk of mental disorder.
Whether you use it as the defining flavor for your curry or as an extra kick for your marinade, capsaicin is the primary pungent ingredient in chili peppers that gives it its pungent taste.
Unfortunately, for heat lovers, this chemical is also what has been linked to cognitive decline.
Nutritionist Rory Batt said: “Capsaicin has been shown in a few studies to cause (neuronal) cell death through a phenomenon known as excitotoxicity.
“Basically, capsaicin in very high doses can cause an excessive and prolonged release of cellular calcium through the activation of a receptor called TRPV1, which triggers a cascade of events that ultimately leads to cell death. This is what this is called excitotoxicity.
READ MORE: Taking two vitamin supplements together increases cancer risk by almost 30% – BMJ
“Because cognitive decline is partly underpinned by neurodegeneration (the death of neuronal cells), then it is possible that capsaicin plays a role [in cognitive decline] through this mechanism.
Moreover, the nutritionist is not the only one to point out the potentially “destructive” effects of peppers.
According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, the spicy ingredient could nearly double your risk of dementia.
By examining more than 4,852 Chinese adults, researchers determined that eating more than 50 grams of chili peppers per day was associated with an increased risk.
Participants’ chili consumption was assessed by a three-day food diary during home visits.
Although the research placed a red flag on chili peppers, the researchers also shared that more studies are needed to come to a firm conclusion.
However, you might not want to throw away your chili stash just yet, according to Batt.
The nutritionist explained that moderate consumption of the spicy ingredient has neutral effects on cognition.
Additionally, he even suggested that consuming 1-20 grams per day may provide some benefits.
READ MORE: Fish may have ‘tumor-promoting’ effects – ‘major risk factor’ for colon cancer
Batt said: “It is very likely that the dose does the poison. A little is protective, too destructive.
“The right amount of TRPV1 activation and calcium release by capsaicin is actually responsible for many very beneficial effects (but as we know from above, too much could lead to cell death-excitotoxicity).
“There’s good reason to believe that capsaicin is good for cognitive health (at the right doses).”
The reason it’s so hard to draw a conclusion about spicy food comes down to the type of research looking at chili peppers and dementia.
Dr Louise Durrant, Head of Nutrition Communications, British Nutrition Foundation, said: “Scientific research into potential associations between chilli consumption and cognitive decline has its limits.
“It is primarily based on observational data which cannot tell us whether a specific food is the direct cause of a health outcome such as cognitive decline, and also provides no clear indication of the underlying mechanisms. underlying how chili consumption might be related to cognitive function.
“The evidence available to date does not indicate the need to alter our average chili consumption for the sake of our cognitive health.”
However, if you want to play it safe, you can follow Batt’s advice by sticking to a dose of between 1 and 20 grams of chili pepper per day.