Eating too much chili can lead to senile dementia: is this true?

Recently, a study said that eating more than 50 grams of chili every day leads to a faster decline in cognitive ability of the elderly.

The study was published in an open source demand journal called Nutrients [1]. The paper is an analysis of some data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS) project.

The main conclusion of the article is that the cognitive ability and memory of the elderly who eat more than 50 grams of chili every day are about twice as fast as those who do not eat chili, especially the thin people have a greater impact.

Eating spicy food can easily lead to senile dementia?  Is it true or not?
Eating spicy food can easily lead to senile dementia? Is it true or not?

What exactly did this paper do?

This paper is an analysis of some data from the “China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS)” project.

CHNS is a survey of adults from 9 provinces in China from 1989 to 2011.

This paper took the population data related to chili intake and cognitive ability, and formed this article through statistical analysis.

The main conclusion of the article is:

For the elderly who eat more than 50g of chili every day, their cognitive ability and memory decline about twice as fast as those who do not eat chili, especially for the thin people.


Does spicy food really lead to cognitive decline?

The data in this paper is the following chart:

Statistics of Pepper Consumption and Cognitive Ability
Statistics of Pepper Consumption and Cognitive Ability

The ordinate is the scores of cognitive tests, and the abscissa is the scores of cognitive abilities tested in different years.

The four lines from top to bottom correspond to people who eat 1-20g of chili, do not eat chili, 20-50g and more than 50g each day.

From this group of data, the cognitive ability of people who eat more than 50 grams of chili every day is significantly lower than that of the other three groups, so the author draws the conclusion that “the cognitive ability and memory decline rate of the elderly who eat more than 50 grams of chili every day is about twice as fast as those who do not eat chili”.

However, we should note that there were considerable differences in the cognitive abilities of the various groups in 1997, and this difference did not significantly expand in the following years, and was even closer in 2006.

What is particularly interesting is that from 2004 to 2006, the cognitive score of the group who did not eat chili dropped the most, and the final score was even lower than that of the group who ate chili at 1-20g and 20-50g. Even in terms of the decline, it was larger than the group that ate 50 grams of chili.

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The paper is not rigorous

Based on this set of data, it can even be concluded that the cognitive ability of people who do not eat chili drops even more.

Even from the overall data, those who eat 1-20 grams of chili every day have higher cognitive ability than those who do not eat chili.

All right, it seems that one can draw the conclusion that eating a proper amount of chili is better for one’s cognitive ability.

In fact, according to this data chart, after 1997, the cognitive decline rate of people who ate different amounts of chili peppers was not significantly different-people who ate 50 grams of chili peppers a day had lower cognitive scores because they scored lower in the beginning.

In a word, this is an interesting paper and the conclusion drawn by the author is amazing.

However, based on the data in this paper, it is not enough to draw the conclusion that eating chili leads to a faster decline in cognitive ability.


Why do people who eat more chili get lower scores in cognitive ability at the beginning?

This paper discusses “the decline of cognitive ability after 55 years old”, but according to the data, it is actually “the difference of cognitive ability at 55 years old”.

Why is the cognitive ability of the people who eat the most chili lower than the other three groups at the age of 55? Is this difference caused by their different consumption of chili before? There is no answer to this question because of the lack of chili consumption in the past.

But from the data after 55 years old, eating more chili did not make their cognitive ability decline faster.

For those who participated in the first cognitive test, the author analyzed their information and listed the statistical results. The data show that:

The subjects were extremely diverse, which led to the results not being rigorous enough.

In data analysis, the influence of those “mixed variables” is eliminated through statistical tools. Of all 4661 people, only 346 people eat more than 50 grams of chili every day.

Because there are too many confounding variables, the number of samples is relatively limited.

In fact, the aging of the human body will lead to the decline of cognitive ability and sensory sensitivity.

Spiciness is a kind of pain stimulation. When sensitivity decreases, more chili is needed to make people get the same pleasure and satisfaction.

In other words, the elderly who eat more spicy food are more likely to have more physical deterioration.

It is because their body functions deteriorate more, so they like to eat more chili. Rather than “because eating more chili leads to more cognitive decline”.

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Can I still eat chili?

Pepper is a seasoning and a vegetable.

There are a lot of researches on the relationship between chili and health. Generally speaking, eating spicy food does not show any harm to health, and there are even many studies that show many health benefits.

This vitamin C-rich vegetable can help you:

  • Lose weight;
  • Protecting the heart;
  • Lower blood pressure;
  • Resist cancer;
  • Increase appetite and so on.

In short, based on the current scientific evidence, if you like spicy food, you can continue to enjoy it.

Of course, if you don’t like it, there is no need to force yourself for the legendary “health benefits”.

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