Results from a new study may have bad news for chili addicts, with researchers finding that eating a spicy diet may be linked to an increased risk of dementia.
Carried out by researchers from Qatar, Australia, and the USA, the new study looked at 4,582 Chinese adults aged over the age of 55 and followed them from 1991 to 2006.
Chili intake, which included both fresh and dried chili peppers but did not include sweet capsicum or black pepper, was assessed six times during the study using a three-day record of dietary intake.
Cognitive function was assessed four times during the 15-year period.
The findings, published in the journal Nutrients, showed that those who consistently ate more than 50 grams of chili a day appeared to have almost double the risk of memory decline and poor cognition compared to those who didn't consume chili. A decline in memory also appeared to be stronger in participants with a low body mass index (BMI) than those with a high BMI.
Participants who ate a lot of chili also tended to have a lower income and a lower BMI and were more physically active compared to non-consumers. The researchers suggest that people of normal body weight may be more sensitive to chili intake than those who are overweight, which could explain the impact of chili on memory and weight.
They added that education levels may also play a role in cognitive decline -- and is a factor which requires further research.
Capsaicin, the active component in chili, has previously been found to have a positive effect on health by speeding up metabolism and fat loss and inhibiting vascular disorders.
To the authors' knowledge, this is the first longitudinal population study to investigate how chili intake could affect cognitive function.
"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," said lead author Dr. Zumin Shi from Qatar University.
"Chili is one of the most commonly used spices in the world and particularly popular in Asia compared to European countries," added researcher Dr. Ming Li. "In certain regions of China, such as Sichuan and Hunan, almost one in three adults consume spicy food every day."
The researchers note that the mechanisms linking chili intake and cognitive function decline are still not fully known, adding that more studies are needed to investigate further, as well as to test whether reducing chili intake can prevent cognitive decline.