Spicy food has always been a bit of a divisive topic. Some people love it, and others completely hate it. Similarly, it was once thought to contribute to dementia but is now thought to help protect against cognitive decline.
If you’re a lover of spicy foods, we may have a new reason for you to eat even more. And if you hate them, you might want to give them another try.
A study from the Third Military Medical University, Qingdao University and Fudan University, and published in the Chinese Medical Journal, has identified a link between the consumption of spicy foods and a lower level of biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s disease, a common and deadly form of dementia.
The researchers studied 55 patients with Alzheimer’s disease aged 40 and older and 55 cognitively normal participants who were matched for age and gender. The study also involved 131 other healthy individuals.
The team assessed their participants’ consumption of spicy food during the last 12 months using a Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) and then compared the results to participants’ cognitive and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biomarkers that suggest the presence of Alzheimer’s disease. The team also performed a Mini-Mental Status Examination (MMSE) to determine whether each individual had no, mild, moderate, or severe cognitive impairment.
The researchers found that those participants who had Alzheimer’s disease consumed less spicy food than those who were deemed cognitively normal. FFQ scores also corresponded with MMSE scores, suggesting that spicy food may help alter the cognitive state even in people with Alzheimer’s biomarkers and protect against cognitive decline. The cohort study of 131 cognitively healthy individuals further corroborates the results.
“Spicy food consumption is closely related to higher cognition levels and reversed Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers in the cerebrospinal fluid, suggesting that a capsaicin-rich diet might have the potential to modify the cognitive status and cerebral pathologies associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Yan-Jiang Wang, the corresponding author of the study.
These results also fit with an interesting geological phenomenon currently occurring in China. The proportion of spicy dishes and the pungency level of those dishes is higher in eastern China than it is in western China, and the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is higher in western China than it is in eastern China.
Capsaicin is the active component that makes food naturally spicy. It is already used in topical creams and gels to help with intractable neuropathic pain, uremic pruritus, and rheumatoid arthritis, but it may now have a new use in future Alzheimer’s therapies.
More research will be needed in the future to corroborate these findings and investigate how capsaicin might be able to be used to treat the disease.