Curry lovers rejoice! Eating spicy food could help you live longer.
A study which analysed the food habits and health details of nearly half a million Chinese people found that those who consumed spicy food six or seven days a week had a 14% reduced risk of dying compared with those who ate it less than once a week.
Eating spicy food was also associated with a lower risk of death due to cancer, ischemic heart diseases and respiratory diseases in both sexes, while in women, it corresponded with a reduced risk of death from infections.
The links were stronger in those who did not consume alcohol.
Researchers stressed that the findings were purely observational, and eating lots of spicy food could also be linked to other dietary habits and lifestyle choices or socio-economic status.
"For example, in Chinese cuisine the cooking of chilli pepper and the production of chilli sauce and oil usually requires more oil, and intake of pungent foods may be accompanied by an increased intake of carbohydrate-rich foods such as rice to relieve the burning sensation," they said.
The study, which is published in the BMJ, said spices have a long history of being used for flavouring, colouring and preserving food - as well as for medicinal purposes.
The research, led by Peking University Health Science Center in Beijing, is in line with previous evidence on the health benefits of spicy foods on human health.
The study authors said capsaicin is the main active component of chilli pepper and its qualities have been extensively reported in relation to anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-hypertensive effects.
Additionally, the antimicrobial function of spices, including chilli pepper, has long been recognised, they said.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr Nita Forouhi, who leads the Medical Research Council unit's nutritional epidemiology programme at the University of Cambridge, suggested future studies should look at whether eating spicy food leads to drinking more water, or different types of tea could be behind the link.
"Future research is needed to establish whether spicy food consumption has the potential to improve health and reduce mortality directly or if it is merely a marker of other dietary and lifestyle factors," she added.
"The added contribution of spicy food intake to the benefits of a balanced healthy diet and healthy lifestyles also remains to be investigated. However, the current findings should certainly stimulate dialogue, debate, and further interest in research."