Chinese researchers suggest spicy foods reduce salt intake and blood pressure

CHINA – Recent research from China has suggested that consumers who eat more spicy food consume less salt and have lower blood pressure, potentially reducing their risk of heart attacks and stroke.

According to Consumer Reports, the researchers from Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China analysed the taste preferences and health of 606 people in China.

They found that those who enjoyed spicy foods not only preferred less salty food, but ate an estimated half a teaspoon less of it per day than people who didn’t like spicy foods.

The blood pressures were also lower by 8 mmHg systolic (the top number in a blood pressure reading); and 5 mmHg diastolic (the bottom number).

The team also looked at brain scans of humans and mice after eating both salt and capsaicin—the spicy component of chilli peppers—they saw that both ingredients elicited similar responses in regions of the brain known to be involved in perceiving salty taste.

‘Spicy foods might trick the brain into thinking it is saltier than it actually is,’ explained the researchers report.

These results “may provide a new strategy for preventing high-salt-induced hypertension,” says study co-author Zhiming Zhu, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of cardiovascular medicine and metabolism and director of the Center for Hypertension and Metabolic Diseases at Daping Hospital at Third Military Medical University.

“The study did not prove that eating spicy foods causes reductions in blood pressure,” says Richard D. Wainford, Ph.D., an associate professor of pharmacology and medicine at The Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute at the Boston University School of Medicine and author of an editorial that accompanied the study.

“However, it does suggest that adding more spice to the diet may help people stay within recommended sodium limits.”

“Getting somebody to stop doing something they like is incredibly hard,” he says. “Adding something that’s nice or pleasurable to your food may more palatable to the general population.”

According to Wainford and other authors, there is no harm in rotating spicy foods or ingredients into your diet on a regular basis.

“As far as I’m aware, there are no long-term negative health consequences of adding spicy food to your diet,” says Wainford, “and there could potentially be a health benefit, too.”

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