"Hotter is healthier" say some. The people of countries where spicy cooking is the norm have understood the preventive and curative benefits of hot spices for hundreds of years. No longer is "hot spicy food" blamed for ulcers and other gastric ills - in fact, the opposite appears to be true although existing intestinal lesions may be sensitive, indicating an underlying problem that should generally be corrected before trying to use hot spices again.
Capsaicin is the source of the heat in hot peppers. It is a colorless compound derived from plants of the genus Capsicum
, which includes jalapeno peppers and habanero peppers. It also contributes to the heat in cayenne, chili pepper and red pepper sauces.
A British study found that hot peppers boost the metabolic rate, which in turn burns extra calories. Losing excess pounds is as good for your health as it is for your vanity, since it reduces the risk of adult onset diabetes
, heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers and a host of other ailments. This is an important finding for dieters and those with a low functioning thyroid gland
or those who are especially susceptible to becoming cold. You may also benefit from lower triglycerides
and improved digestion.
Capsicum can help prevent the formation of dangerous blood clots, acting as a natural blood thinner. Researchers in Thailand first noticed that people who consume large amounts of red chili peppers experienced a lower incidence of thrombo-embolism (potentially dangerous blood clots). Scientists then looked at the medical records of countries where hot spicy foods were regularly consumed, and found that people who eat a diet high in red peppers experience a much lower incidence of blood clotting diseases. Scientists have now concluded that capsicum does indeed possess fibrinolytic
activity, meaning that it is able to break down blood clots. New research is focusing on this compound's ability to act as an anti-inflammatory
agent and aid in controlling pain.
In countries where diets are traditionally high in capsaicin, the cancer death rates for men and women are significantly lower than they are in countries with less chili pepper consumption. Capsaicin has been found to preferentially inhibit the growth of cancer cells in laboratory studies.
Capsaicin's distant cousin, turmeric, is an important ingredient of curry powder and contains curcumin, which gives the curry powder its bright saffron yellow color. Like capsaicin, turmeric is the subject of many studies on the health benefits of hot food, particularly because medical practitioners and researchers have observed low rates of certain cancers among Asian people. Countries like India and Pakistan, where the people eat a lot of curry, have a lower incidence of various types of cancer.