The spice of life: how curry can help to cut cancer risk
Curry really could be the spice of life after scientists discovered that eating hot food regularly can lower the risk of dying prematurely.
A study of nearly 500,000 Chinese people over seven years found that those who ate spicy food three times a week cut their risk of dying by 14 per cent, compared with people who abstained.
Although researchers at Harvard University say they cannot definitively say that hot food has a protective effect, they say it paves the way for more research which could lead to new dietary recommendations.
Fresh and dried chilli peppers were the most commonly used spices in those who reported eating spicy foods weekly, and further analysis showed those who consumed fresh chilli tended to have a lower risk of death from cancer, ischaemic heart disease and diabetes.
Fresh chilli is packed full of nutrients, vitamins and capsaicin, which are thought to fight cancer, inflammation and obesity.
However, Dr Nita Forouhi from the University of Cambridge said it was still too early to tell whether it was the food itself, or other behaviours of those eating it, which was causing the effect.
"Future research is needed to establish whether spicy food consumption has the potential to improve health and reduce mortality directly or if it is merely a marker of other dietary and lifestyle factors," said Dr Forouhi.
"Should people eat spicy food? It is too early to say, but the debate and the research interest are certainly hotting up."
Other health experts warned that a balanced diet was still the best way of staying healthy.
Dr Amelia Lake, Lecturer in Knowledge Exchange in Public Health, Durham University, said: "While there is some evidence that this broad group of foods called spices may have some beneficial effects, the take-home message is to carry on with a balanced, varied diet where a bit of spice may have some benefits."
Prof Kevin McConway, Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University, added: "Maybe it has something to do with the sort of people, in China, who tend to eat more spicy food.
"For instance, it's interesting that the people in the study who ate spicy food almost every day were very much more likely to live in rural areas than were the other participants."
The research was published in the British Medical Journal. (© Daily Telegraph, London)