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Dementia

Updated 08 August 2019

You may want to hold the extra chilli – a new study has linked eating more than 50g of chilli a day to having poor memory

Excessive amounts of chilli have been linked to a significant decline in memory over a number of years – but there's no need to panic quite yet.

Although spicy food has great benefits like boosting your immune system, helping you stay regular or even helping you live longer, researchers are now warning that 50g of chilli a day is linked to dementia. The study did, however, note that further research is needed – so if you're a lover of spice, there's no need to panic just yet.

The study, led by Qatar University, also involving academics from the University of Southern Australia, took place over 15 years and incorporated more than 4 500 people. Researchers found that those who consumed 50g of chilli a day were more likely to have poor memory. It was also linked to a 56% decline in memory over 15 years. 

Three-day food questionnaire

Researchers analysed data from 4 582 adults over the age of 55 who were part of the China Health and Nutrition Survey between 1991 and 2006. 3 302 of these people had their cognitive function tested in at least two sessions in 1997, 2000, 2004 or 2006.

As part of cognitive function testing, participants were asked to recall 10 words from a list and count back from 20. In addition, participants were also asked to rate their memories on a scale ranging from "very good" to "very bad". Participants' chilli intake was monitored via a three-day food questionnaire. Their diet included dried chilli peppers and fresh peppers, but no capsicums or black pepper.

The results showed that the more spicy food a participant consumed, the lower their cognitive function. In comparison to participants who did not eat chilli, those who ate 50g a day doubled their incidence of self-reported poor memory.

Researchers noted that 50g of chilli was "not common in Western countries", but that was one of the most widely used spices in the world, particularly in Asia. Dr Ming Li, co-author of the study said, "In certain regions of China such as Sichuan and Hunan, almost one in three adults consumes spicy food every day." Participants who ate this much chilli were 56% more likely to report memory decline over the 15 year period.

No conclusive evidence

BMI was said to be somewhat of a key factor in this study and those with a low BMI faced a greater risk of dementia, which researchers referred to as "borderline significant". The study also noted that participants who consumed more chilli tended to have a lower income and were more physically active than non-consumers of chilli.

Researchers are still unsure as to why chilli may cause cognitive decline in humans, as some studies found that chilli could potentially promote good memory in animals. Dr Clare Walton, the research manager at the Alzheimer's Society said, "With global dementia figures rising, understanding risk factors, especially those relevant to large populations like China, is certainly a hot topic." She continued to say that there were so many differences between the chilli lovers and abstainers in this study that it doesn't provide any conclusive evidence that eating spicy food will increase your risk of dementia. 

Further research is required in order to confirm the link between chilli and dementia. Researchers claim that chillies may affect nerve viability, but that theory remains highly speculative.

Image credit: iStock