Spicy Food & Inflammation - Ask a Nutritionist

September 21, 2023

Spicy peppers contain a compound called capsaicin. This capsaicin is what's responsible for heat. But it's also responsible for many health benefits including improving cardiovascular health. Tune into this Week's Episode of Ask a Nutritionist With Britni to learn all about the benefits of eating spicy foods.

Join our Dishing Up Nutrition Facebook Community!


Podcast Powered by Podbean

Print Transcript


Welcome to the “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We are thrilled to have you join us today as we discuss the connection between what you eat and how you feel, and share practical real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition. Now let's get started.

BRITNI: Hello and welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's midweek segment called “Ask a Nutritionist”. I am Britni Vincent, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. On today's show, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness, I will be answering a nutrition question we've received from one of our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners.

Capsaicinoids contain health benefits

And the question today is, “Do spicy foods help or hinder inflammation?” So generally speaking, spicy foods are very healthy and usually when people think of spicy foods, they're often referring to spicy peppers found in foods. Spicy peppers contain something called capsaicinoids, which include the compound capsaicin, and that's a chemical component of peppers that actually create that spicy taste that you get. And research has shown that capsaicin has a variety of different health benefits, including in improving inflammation, which is what the listener’s original question was.

So I want to elaborate on all of that today. You know, I found it interesting in doing research that capsaicin is actually the main ingredient in a lot of different ointments, lotions, patches that are used for pain relief, and capsaicin actually reduces the pain signals from nerve endings to your brain.

Other benefits of spicy foods specifically that can that include capsaicin from the spicy peppers, capsaicin supports normal circulation, blood flow, and just overall cardiovascular health as well as decreasing the risk of heart disease. And this is likely due to the anti-inflammatory properties of capsaicin. You may have heard that eating spicy food is good for weight loss and yes, that is true. So eating spicy food actually promotes a healthy metabolism and fat burning.

According to a meta-analysis of 90 different studies; that's a lot; this meta-analysis looked at the role of capsaicin and weight management and found that spicy foods reduce appetite and they increase energy expenditure. Capsaicin can enhance your digestive health. It actually supports the growth of friendly, good, healthy microbes to promote more diversity in our microbiome. Capsaicin has antibacterial properties as well. So because of these antibacterial properties and supporting our gut health, it also helps to boost our immune function.

You may have heard us talk about in the past that the majority of our immune system is actually found in our gut. Capsaicin provides us with antioxidants which help to fight oxidative stress, and there are more than one study that have found that eating spicy foods may potentially reduce the risk of premature death. In one study, it compared adults who ate spicy foods less than once a week to those that consumed spicy foods six or seven days a week benefited from a 14% reduced risk for total mortality. And this is probably due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of capsaicin.

Overviewing different spices and health benefits

So I want to dive a little more into other spices. Again, I assume when the listener was asking about spicy foods, most people think about spicy foods that contain those spicy peppers. But I'm going to just broaden this discussion for, to provide some more education today. And I thought it was interesting to learn the definition of a spice is any vegetable, seed, fruit, root, or bark that is used for flavoring. And there's many, many different spices that provide health benefits. So it's definitely not limited to the ones that I am discussing today.

You know, for instance, cumin and turmeric have been shown to have really powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. And when I keep referring to anti-microbial, that means that it helps to get rid of harmful bacteria in our body. Garlic, ginger has been known for its anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for centuries to treat a variety of different health conditions like arthritis, autoimmune conditions, may even help headaches and nausea.

So I mentioned turmeric just a little bit ago and I want to dive into that more because I'm sure most of you listeners have heard about turmeric or curcumin in recent years and the media and all of the different benefits it provides and it's true, it is very, very good for us. So turmeric is the yellow spice that gives curry its color, and curcumin specifically is the main active ingredient in turmeric. And curcumin has really powerful anti-inflammatory properties and, and is a strong antioxidant.

Other benefits of curcumin include balancing and regulating our immune system, reducing oxidative stress, acting as an anticoagulant, improving neurotransmitter signaling in our brain. Curcumin also supports detoxification and you know, more research is really needed on curcumin and, and the mechanism of which that it works. But it's been identified that curcumin reduces inflammation in several different ways in our body.

A 2022 systematic review and meta-analysis showed that curcumin is effective for reducing inflammation, swelling, and pain in inflammatory joint conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. You know, I would say that as far as supplementing with curcumin, that is one of the most common reasons why I recommend it to my clients, is to help with the inflammation and the pain associated with arthritis, whether that be osteo or rheumatoid arthritis.

Curcumin has also been studied in treatment in autoimmune diseases. A review of 16 trials involving roughly 1300 patients with diabetes showed improvements in key metrics for measuring metabolic health, which included fasting blood sugar numbers, hemoglobin A1C, triglycerides and, and the lipid profile overall as well as blood pressure. So basically what that that review showed is that curcumin can just improve all metabolic metrics. Curcumin has proven to lead to improvements in memory and attention in adults.

Researchers saw these effects in an 18 month study on 40 patients between ages of 51 and 84 with mild cognitive impairment or a decline in cognitive performance. The findings of this study suggests that curcumin has anti-amyloid and anti-inflammatory properties on the brain, which may protect it from neurodegeneration. And at 40 patients is not a huge sample size. But you know, I think that that study and the outcome of the study is very promising with the effects of curcumin on the brain.

So you might be wondering, well, what if I just add more turmeric to my food? Am I going to get the same benefit? I would say if you enjoy turmeric, you know, go for it. Add it more into, into your foods on a regular basis. But to get all of these therapeutic benefits that I'm talking about today, you probably do need to supplement with it just because it is a lot more concentrated in a supplement form. I have had many clients over the years that it helps so much with their pain and inflammation that it's night and day. If they forget to take it for a couple days, they notice pretty drastically that their inflammation and pain comes back. So it can be a very helpful supplement to take and, you know, there is just so many benefits of of curcumin.

Can spicy foods cause digestive symptoms for some people?

So today's original question was, do spicy foods help or hinder inflammation? So I think that we have established that spicy foods definitely help to reduce inflammation amongst provide a lot of other benefits. But I want to go back to the rest of that original question. Can spicy foods hinder inflammation. And where I have seen this is some people can experience digestive symptoms with spicy foods, especially those that are already prone to or already have inflammatory bowel disease, IBS, acid reflux. And I see this more when I initially meet with clients and what I have clinically found is once we establish, you know, what the root cause of or the root causes of the digestive symptoms are and we heal the gut, people are generally able to tolerate spicy foods a lot better and sometimes they have no problem with spicy foods at all.

Again after they have done some gut healing. I think that after today's show, you know, maybe I have inspired you to start to eat more spicy foods because there are lots of benefits to it, or maybe including more turmeric to your food or maybe taking a curcumin supplement could really benefit you.

But I do want to thank you for listening to Dishing Up Nutrition’s “Ask a Nutritionist”. If you have a question you would like us to answer, we invite you to join our Dishing Up Nutrition Facebook community by searching Dishing Up Nutrition on Facebook.

Join Our Dishing Up Nutrition Facebook Group

This private group is moderated by Nutritional Weight and Wellness nutritionists and nutrition educators, and provides our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners with a safe, supportive community to ask questions, share ideas, and get inspired. Once you're a member of our community, we invite you to join the conversation and share your questions with us. So please don't be shy. If you have a question, just let us know and we look forward to hearing from you.

Print Transcript

Back To Top