The pros and cons of eating chilli on the body
Since its early origins in the Tehuacan valley of Mexico over 8,000 years ago (between 7000–6000 BC), chilli has become a global food not only found in nearly every country around the world but also adopted as an essential ingredient in their cuisines.
Due to its worldwide consumption, chilli is also known by several names including aji, cayenne, red pepper, chili pepper, paprika, jalapeno, and tabasco.
In one province of China called Sichuan, chilli is a very popular food. Almost everyone there eats chilli with each meal. The local chefs use chilli with every dish, and without chilli, Sichuan food would not be as delicious. Many Chinese diet therapy researchers have found that Sichuan people eat a lot of chilli because it is associated with their weather, which makes chilli a suitable food for them to eat.
Sichuan is a very damp, foggy and cold place throughout most of the year. One very important function of chilli is to clear the dampness and to expel the cold. This is in accordance with Traditional Chinese Medicine as it is well-known that eating certain foods can help to expel environmental conditions (such as dampness and cold) which may affect the body. This why the local people of Sichuan like to each chilli and many people have told me that if you live in Sichuan, you should also learn to eat chilli.
I have another story to tell you from my friends. My friend who lives in Beijing visited Sichuan to work for a few months. When he stayed there, he ate chilli every day and he was very healthy and happy. When he came back to Beijing, he was still keen to eat chilli dishes every day. However, after a couple of weeks he started to have a dry throat, dry nose, red burning eyes, pimples, pain after bowel movement and swelling on his bottom. At this point, he stopped eating chilli and started to eat the foods he ate before he went to Sichuan. Since he did this, his symptoms disappeared.
This story is an example of the theory of Chinese medicine diet therapy; that chilli has beneficial or negative effects on the body all depending on the amount, the season, time and location where you eat it.
Now I would like to share with you some of the characteristics of chilli.
What is pathogenic dampness?
Chinese medicine considers dampness to be a very common pathogenic factor of the body that can cause illness. It comes from the environment especially when it is the wet season with continuous rain, cloud and fog. When these conditions last for too long or occur very often, it will affect the body by moving the dampness into the body. When the dampness affects the body it will affect primarily the Spleen and its function.
In Chinese medicine, the Spleen is important for metabolism of food and transportation of fluid. If the Spleen function is affected a person may experience the following symptoms:
- lack of energy and lethargy
- light sleep
- full, bloated and heavy feeling of the stomach
- sluggish bowel movement or loose stools
- feeling of heaviness in the head
- heaviness in the body, stiff neck and shoulders, arm and legs.
For some people, if the symptoms above are not controlled some may develop under-active thyroid, weight gain, diabetes and high blood pressure.
So if you are staying in a very damp and cold place or your body is affected by dampness, I suggest that during your treatment you can eat a certain amount of chilli with your food, which can help to clear the dampness and cold from the body. It can help to relieve the symptoms and prevent further pathogenic effects.
The health benefits of chilli
i) Helps to clear fluid retention, dampness and cold
The characteristics of chilli is spicy and warm. It acts upon the Spleen channel and helps the Spleen to metabolise fluid and expel dampness and cold due to environmental conditions. From this point, we now understand why Sichuan people like to eat chilli.
ii) Helps to digest food
Chinese medicine considers the Spleen organ system to be involved in the digestion and transportation of food. If your body is affected by excessive dampness, it will affect your Spleen function. Chilli can therefore help the Spleen to rid the body of dampness, to increase the metabolism of food and make bowel movements easier. This is why some people have found chilli to be helpful in weight loss.
iii) Benefits joint pain and arthritis
Environmental cold and dampness can easily affect the joints and circulation. This may cause stagnation in the joints which may cause joint problems such as joint pain and arthritis.
This is associated with symptoms such as aversion to cold, joint pain, tightness or numbness that worsens when the environment is cold or wet and damp. Some people may even feel the cold or rain before it comes as their joints start to feel uncomfortable. This is why Chinese medicine diagnosis and treatment pays a lot of attention to body conditions and the season.
If you suffer from the symptoms above, and are undergoing treatment, eating a certain amount of chilli can help your condition. Eating foods with spicy characteristics can help to expel excess dampness and warm the body.
How much chilli should you eat?
Chilli is a very strong spice. I suggest that even if your body or the season is suitable to eat chilli, you should only eat a certain amount. Don’t over eat it.
I know someone who ate chilli and had ulcers in the mouth, pimples and constipation the next day after eating a large quantity of chilli. If you eat too much, you may over-heat the body. If you are unsure of the symptoms associated with over-heating the body. Please check the symptoms below.
Precautions of eating chilli
Above I mentioned the beneficial effects of chilli on the body. But like every single food, they can have both good and bad effects. I suggest that when you choose your foods, especially when you eat them often, you should also understand their potentially negative effects. From this, you will be able to acquire a greater benefit from your diet.
As chilli is very hot, it may bring lots of heat into the body. If you already have a hot body constitution it is better to eat less or avoid eating this hot food. Otherwise the body may become overheated causing a yin and yang imbalance.
The following symptoms are associated with a hot body constitution:
- Red face, red and dry eyes
- Excessive sweating
- Dry mouth and thirst, craving cold beverages or foods
- Feeling hot, anxious and emotional, even heart palpitations
- Bloating, constipation, and pungent stools
- Very yellow/dark urination with pungent smell
- Dry skin
If you are undergoing treatment for blood pressure, liver disease, diabetes, kidney or heart disease, it is best to be cautious when eating chilli. Please consult your Chinese medicine practitioner to see whether it is suitable for you.
In my many years of clinical experience, I realised for the following symptoms it is best to avoid eating chilli:
- Stomach and bowel ulcers, stomach infections, heartburn
- Haemorrhoids, swelling, pain or bleeding after bowel movement
- Fever, sore throat, cough with yellow phlegm
- Urinary tract infection
- Hot flushes, dry mouth and thirst through the night
- Skin rashes
If you are unsure of your body constitution, it is best to ask your Chinese medicine practitioner.
Food as medicine (A disclaimer)
Our “food as medicine” articles share knowledge about health foods in the context of traditional Chinese medicine diet therapy and practices often dating back thousands of years. We also support this knowledge with references to published scientific research. Please keep in mind that scientific research into the health benefits of foods is still emerging and human research is limited.
Consuming a wide variety of natural foods as part of a balanced diet is most beneficial for health, however, we don’t advise using food alone to treat diseases. Please consult with your doctor or health professional about which foods are suitable for your body or health issues.
What Does The Research Say?
The following insights are obtained from scientific studies, systematic reviews and analysis of clinical trials investigating the efficacy of Chilli.
Epidemiological studies suggest that the consumption of spicy chilli food is associated with reduced risk of all-cause as well as heart diseaseâ€“related mortality.
This systematic review and meta-analysis examined the association between spicy food (chilli pepper, chilli sauce, or chilli oil) consumption with cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. Medline and EMBASE were searched from their inception until February 2020 to identify relevant prospective cohort studies. Hazard ratios (HRs)/relative risk (RRs) were pooled via random-effect meta-analysis. Of the 4387 citations identified, 4 studies (from the United States, China, Italy, and Iran) were included in the meta-analysis. The included studies involved a total of 564 748 adults (aged â‰¥18 years; 51.2% female) followed over a median duration of 9.7 years. The pooled data suggested that compared with people who did not regularly consume spicy food (none/<1 d/wk), regular consumers of spicy food experienced a 12% (HR/RRpooled 0.88, 95% CI, 0.86-0.90; I 2 = 0%) lower risk of all-cause mortality. Moreover, spicy food consumption was associated with significant reduction in the risk of death from cardiac diseases (HR/RRpooled 0.82, 0.73-0.91; I 2 = 0%), but not from cerebrovascular disorders (HR/RRpooled 0.79, 0.53-1.17; I 2 = 72.2%). In conclusion, available epidemiological studies suggest that the consumption of spicy chilli food is associated with reduced risk of all-cause as well as heart diseaseâ€“related mortality. Further studies in different populations are needed to confirm this association.
Association of Spicy Chilli Food Consumption With Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies Ofori-Asenso R, Mohsenpour MA, Nouri M, Faghih S, Liew D, Mazidi M.
2020 Scientific Reports
Chilli pepper supplementation had significant effect on low density lipoprotein-cholesterol and marginally significant effect on body weight.
In the present study, we found that C. annuum has marginally significant effects on body weight. Capsaicin is known to promote negative energy balance by increasing satiety and suppressing hunger, reducing energy and fat intake, and inducing thermogenesis. Capsinoids, including capsiate and dihydrocapsiate, are also known to exert beneficial effects on energy balance. Reinbach et al., reported that CH-19 sweet pepper (non-pungent) reduces energy intake during positive energy balance. Additionally, CH-19 sweet pepper is associated with increased oxygen consumption, diet-induced thermogenesis, and an activated sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Furthermore, a meta-analysis revealed that capsiate increases energy expenditure (EE), but capsaicin has no overall effect on EE; however, both capsaicin and capsiate enhance fat oxidation.
The effects of C. annuum on weight management are due to the activation of transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1 (TRPV1) receptors. In a preclinical study, dose-dependent administration of a TRPV1 agonist, capsaicin, prevented adipogenesis in stimulated 3T3-L1-preadipocytes, and oral administration of capsaicin prevented obesity in males. Non-pungent capsiate is also an exogenous agonist of TRPV1 receptors and is associated with improved body metabolism including glucose homeostasis and obesity. TRPV1 activation leads to activation of the SNS, and inhibition of food intake by SNS activation accounts for reduced body fat stores and weight loss. Some herbs and their active compounds, including several piperine analogs from Piper nigrum, can also reduce weight through TRPV1-dependent mechanisms.
Effects of Capsicum annuum supplementation on the components of metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis Jang, HH., Lee, J., Lee, SH. et al.
2018 MOJ Food Processing & Technology
Chili pepper has preventive and therapeutic properties for many ailments such as different types of cancer, rheumatism, stiff joints, bronchitis and chest colds with cough and headache, arthritis, heart arrhythmias and used as stomachic.
A vanilloid receptor known as VR1 which was later found to be member of the family TRP and was called TRPV1 (transient receptor potential vanilloid subtype 1) is the receptor for capsaicin and is universally distributed in the brain, sensory nerves, dorsal root ganglia, bladder, gut, and blood vessels. Capsaicin is activate and then desensitize or block VR1 and was found to be powerful drug in animal models of human disease. Capsaicin plays a potential role in cardiometabolic protection through the activation of TRPV1 in different target organs or tissues, which suggests that TRPV1 may be a promising target for the management of cardiometabolic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes and atherosclerosis. However, association between the dosage of dietary capsaicin and the effect on cardiometabolic protection need to be clarified for determining the daily usage or intake of capsaicin or its derivatives. The activation of VR1 by capsaicin make it possible to be involved in various human disease states ranging from genetic pain insensitivity to chronic pain syndromes. In addition to that VR1 has much broader clinical benefits than mere pain case.
Chili pepper has preventive and therapeutic properties for many ailments such as different types of cancer, rheumatism, stiff joints, bronchitis and chest colds with cough and headache, arthritis, heart arrhythmias and used as stomachic. Chili preparations for treating ailments can be standard capsaicin, pharmaceutically prepared gels, creams and plasters, essential oils distilled from pods, powder prepared by crashing pods and extracts by soaking pods in water or ethanol.
Medicinal uses and health benefits of chili pepper (Capsicum spp.) : a review Saleh BK, Omer A, Teweldemedhin B.
Previous records suggest pleiotropic pharmacological activities of capsaicin such as an analgesic, anti-obesity, anti-pruritic, anti-inflammatory, anti-apoptotic, anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, and neuro-protective functions. Emerging data indicate its clinical significance in treating vascular-related diseases, metabolic syndrome, and gastro-protective effects.
Capsaicin has elicited enormous interest for several centuries due to its conspicuous culinary and clinical applications. Despite its adverse effects, capsaicin is still being used as an active principle in several pharmaceutical formulations for treating various human ailments.
Moreover, emerging studies have shown that capsaicin is implicated in a broader range of functions than previously anticipated. Even though it is best characterized in the field of nociception and pain, several experimental and clinical studies also demonstrate its role in other important pathological states like cancer, obesity, skin disorders, cardiovascular diseases, etc.
Additionally, it has also been implicated in other activities including treatment of the upper respiratory reflexes, prevention of adipogenesis, boosting metabolic rate, and regulation of innate and adaptive immune responses.
Harnessing the Therapeutic Potential of Capsaicin and Its Analogues in Pain and Other Diseases Basith S, Cui M, Hong S, Choi S.
2015 Open Heart
Clinically, ingestion of capsaicin-or its less stable non-pungent analogue capsiate-has been shown to boost metabolic rate modestly.
This brief overview should make it clear that dietary capsaicinâ€”and, likely to a more limited degree, non-pungent capsiateâ€”has intriguing potential for health promotion. Rodent studies suggest that capsaicin may merit clinical evaluation with respect to endothelial function, progression of atherosclerosis (most notably in diabetics), angina, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiac hypertrophy, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, obesity and gastric ulceration.
Capsaicin may have important potential for promoting vascular and metabolic health McCarty MF, DiNicolantonio JJ, O'Keefe JH
Browse our collection of scientific research on Chilli. It includes recent and reputable papers published by peer-reviewed journals within the last 10 years.
2021, Mar 4
Association of Spicy Chilli Food Consumption With Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies
This detailed article showcased that chilli has anti-inflammatory effects, antimicrobial effects, boosts gut microbiota and increases metabolism. The studies concluded that with these mechanisms, chilli reduces cardiovascular diseases and reduced mortality.
Ofori-Asenso R, Mohsenpour MA, Nouri M, Faghih S, Liew D, Mazidi M. Full Article
2020, Dec 1
Effects of Capsicum annuum supplementation on the components of metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis
This study indicated that capsicum has significant effects on metabolic syndrome therefore suppresses hunger, reduce fat intake and increases energy expenditures.
Jang, HH., Lee, J., Lee, SH. et al. Full Article
2018, Jul 5
Medicinal uses and health benefits of chili pepper (Capsicum spp.) : a review
MOJ Food Processing & Technology
This article showcased that chilli has nutritional values of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B5, other nutritional minerals and therapeutical benefits. These are highly effective in treating osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, colds, headaches and also anti-cancer.
Saleh BK, Omer A, Teweldemedhin B. Full Article
2016, Jul 23
Harnessing the Therapeutic Potential of Capsaicin and Its Analogues in Pain and Other Diseases
Capsaicin has elicited enormous interest for several centuries due to its conspicuous culinary and clinical applications. Despite its adverse effects, capsaicin is still being used as an active principle in several pharmaceutical formulations for treating various human ailments. Moreover, emerging studies have shown that capsaicin is implicated in a broader range of functions than previously anticipated. Even though it is best characterized in the field of nociception and pain, several experimental and clinical studies also demonstrate its role in other important pathological states like cancer, obesity, skin disorders, cardiovascular diseases, etc. Additionally, it has also been implicated in other activities including treatment of the upper respiratory reflexes, prevention of adipogenesis, boosting metabolic rate, and regulation of innate and adaptive immune responses.
Basith S, Cui M, Hong S, Choi S. Full Article
2015, Jun 17
Capsaicin may have important potential for promoting vascular and metabolic health
This study suggest that capsaicin has health benefits to decrease gastro ulceration, obesity, increased endothelial functions in stroke patients and decreases an overall metabolic effects
McCarty MF, DiNicolantonio JJ, O'Keefe JH Full Article