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What are the Health Benefits of Spicy Foods?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Fans of spicy foods have long claimed that eating such foods has some health benefits, and many studies seem to suggest that some of these claims may be accurate. Researchers have studied the health benefits of spicy foods in people who which eat them, and the results of studies on specific components of hot foods, most notably capsaicin, have been applied to spicy foods in general. It is important to remember that no food is a magic bullet, however, and that eating a balanced, healthy diet is extremely important.

Most of the health benefits of spicy foods appear to center around capsaicin, the ingredient that makes chili peppers hot. Other ingredients like turmeric, coriander, and mustard seeds may also confer additional health benefits. One of the most widely accepted claims is that eating spicy foods promotes sweating, opens the sinuses, and encourages the body to cough up mucus, making this food a good thing to eat if a person has a cold. The hot temperature of spicy foods can also promote the opening of the bronchial tubes.

Some studies have suggested that the ingredients in spicy foods may be especially important for the brain. People who eat a lot of foods with certain spices appear to be at a decreased risk of developing degenerative brain and nervous system conditions, and these foods may also help with depression and migraines. Eating spicy foods also increases the metabolism, encouraging people to process food more quickly, leading some researchers to suggest that it may help with weight loss.

Capsaicin is sometimes used topically in pain management, and it appears to be beneficial for pain and inflammation when ingested internally. Spicy foods also promote good circulation, and they appear to lower blood pressure, which reduces strain on the heart. While eating spicy foods will certainly not replace blood pressure medications, it could be a useful supplement to blood pressure management.

Historically, some people have believed that spicy foods are unhealthy, contributing to the development of ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, most ulcers appear to be caused by bacteria, and although some spicy and acidic foods may irritate the condition, they are certainly not the root cause. While some people are extremely sensitive to heat, experiencing discomfort if they eat spicy foods, these foods do not appear to be inherently unhealthy.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By John57 — On Oct 20, 2012

Who knew that eating spicy foods was good for migraines and weight loss? I think I need to start adding more spice to my diet because these are two things I struggle with.

I remember hearing on a talk show that turmeric was good for headaches, so this starts to make some sense to me. I just never knew of a good way to include this spice in my diet. If spicy foods really do help with your metabolism, I should start eating more spicy foods. Maybe I can get rid of my migraines and lose some weight at the same time.

By honeybees — On Oct 20, 2012

My husband loves spicy food but can't eat it because it really bothers his stomach and gives him heartburn. For years he ate a lot of spicy food and I always thought all that hot food is what caused his stomach problems.

He really misses eating spicy foods and tries some once in awhile, but is usually sorry because he is so miserable afterwards. I have never cared much for spicy food so have a hard time understanding how someone could enjoy this type of food.

It sounds like there were other issues that caused the digestion problems and eating the spicy food just aggravates the condition. It is easier to cook now that we use about the same amount of spice in our food, but I know he doesn't think it tastes nearly as good.

By LisaLou — On Oct 19, 2012

I am not used to eating food with much spice or kick to it. When I do, my nose really starts to run. I never realized this was actually healthy for me and was clearing out my sinuses. If I were to start adding spicy foods to my diet, I think I would have to start out slowly and gradually increase the amount of spicy food. From all the benefits listed in this article, it doesn't sound like it would be a bad idea.

By andee — On Oct 18, 2012

@anon77202-- My husband works with some guys who are originally from Mexico and they eat a lot of spicy foods. They like to add peppers to just about anything they eat. I don't know them well enough to know if they are healthier or thinner because of eating all this spicy food, but I think they prefer some kind of spicy food at just about every meal.

When I was traveling in the Southwest, I noticed that at some of the fast food places you could add peppers to your meal. I am from the Midwest and had never seen anything like this where I live. Compared to most people who are used to spicy foods, I have a very bland and boring diet.

By Kristee — On Oct 18, 2012

I love eating spicy fajitas whenever I have a cold. The heat opens up my sinuses, and I can actually taste again!

One bad thing about having your sinuses clogged is that you lose the ability to taste food. Spicy food is so powerful that it can cut through the congestion, and the flavor is so intense!

By healthy4life — On Oct 17, 2012

If I had known years ago that spicy foods increase metabolism, I probably would have had better success with my diets! I'm going to start eating curry dishes and jalapeno-infused meals several times a week and see if this helps. I'm excited to see the results!

By kylee07drg — On Oct 17, 2012

@seag47 – People with bad heartburn can't eat spicy foods. My best friend deals with heartburn every day, and he avoids foods that are even mildly spicy.

I have no issue with mildly spicy food, though. Since my health improves through my eating it, I make it a point to eat Mexican or Indian twice a week.

I can't tolerate things that are ultra spicy, though. I once ate a bit of some kind of red pepper at a Chinese restaurant, and I actually cried from the intensity. There was not enough water in the world to wash that pain away!

By seag47 — On Oct 16, 2012

That's so strange to me that eating spicy food benefits your heart. I had always seen cartoons indicating characters that ate things that were way spicy and then dropped over dead from a heart attack.

I really did think that hot food would make your heart race. I guess the only thing really negatively affected by spicy foods is your poor tongue!

By anon151650 — On Feb 11, 2011

i love to eat spicy food, especially ulam. (malaysian most famous food)

By anon141482 — On Jan 10, 2011

I am a huge fan of spicy food, and I actually have a dream to open my own spicy food health restaurant. The menu will be covered with spicy foods from all different cultures, along with the history of the food itself written underneath.

The story behind my love for hot food is actually quite funny. When I was really young, I used to stick my tongue out at my mother and she wanted to find a way for me to stop. One day, she held me down and put drops of Tobasco sauce on my tongue. It made me stop for that one day but, being so young, I kept doing it anyway and she kept punishing me in the same way. I eventually stopped, but by that time it was too late.

As for health effects, I can safely say I feel amazing after a good homemade peppercorn steak and grilled jalapenos, sprinkled with salt. My lifestyle doesn't allow me much time to exercise, but I eat a lot, mostly hot food. By my expectations, I should be a fat cow. But I'm not. And that's what led me to this web page.

By anon77202 — On Apr 13, 2010

I became enamored of spicy foods when my husband and I moved to Texas and began to eat Mexican food. My husband was born in the Dutch East Indies and was used to eating spicy food as a child. We have been buying Sambal Badjak and Sambal Oelek for years and I believe I'm addicted. I truly love spicy-hot foods!

By bestcity — On Jan 12, 2009

People eating spicy food seem to eat less and seem to burn more calories. Maybe spicy foods increases metabolism. These are some findings at a Quebec University. One way of keeping weight under control.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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