When people didn’t care for spicy food, they consumed an average of
13.4 grams a day of salt, according to the study published in the
journal Hypertension. But when people craved spicy dishes, their
average salt intake was just 10.3 grams a day.
Systolic blood pressure – the “top” number showing how much pressure
blood exerts against artery walls when the heart beats, was 8 mmHg
(millimeters of mercury) lower for people with the greatest love of
spicy foods than for individuals with the lowest tolerance for
spice, the study also found. Diastolic blood pressure – the “bottom”
number indicating how much pressure the blood exerts on artery walls
when the heart is at rest between beats – was 5 mmHg lower for spice
“Our study shows that the enjoyment of spicy flavor is an important
way to reduce salt intake and blood pressure, no matter the type of
food and the amount of food,” said senior study author Dr. Zhiming
Zhu of Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China.
“We advise people to enjoy spicy food in their daily life as long as
they can tolerate,” Zhu said by email. “We do not recommend people
who can't tolerate pungent of chili pepper consume spicy food
A high-salt diet has long been linked to higher odds of developing
high blood pressure and heart disease as well as an increased risk
of heart attack, stroke and heart failure. But determining the ideal
amount of dietary salt is controversial because some research has
also found an elevated risk of heart disease, high blood pressure
and heart attacks in otherwise healthy people who consume too little
Some previous research suggests that trace amounts of capsaicin, the
chemical that gives chili peppers their pungent smell, may heighten
salty flavors in foods, essentially requiring lower amount of salt
to achieve the flavor people may want, Zhu said by email.
For the current study, researchers wanted to see if this heightened
awareness of salty flavors in food might translate into lower salt
intake, Zhu said.
Researchers also used imaging techniques to look at two regions of
the participants’ brains — the insula and orbitofrontal cortex —
known to be involved in salty taste.
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They found that the areas stimulated by salt and spice overlapped,
and that spice further increased brain activity in areas activated
by salt. Authors said that this increased activity likely makes
people more sensitive to salt so that they can enjoy food with less
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether
or how a love of spicy foods might translate into eating less salt
or having lower blood pressure.
Another drawback is that researchers relied on surveys to determine
how much salt participants consumed, and they didn’t independently
verify this, the authors note.
It’s also possible that results from Chinese people might not apply
to other racial or ethnic groups in other regions of the world.
“It is impossible to tell from this study which types of spices will
be the most beneficial or how much spice is required to see a
beneficial effect on lowering salt intake or blood pressure,” said
Richard Wainford, author of an accompanying editorial and a
pharmacology researcher at Boston University School of Medicine.
“There are no key spices identified in this study,” Wainford said by
email. “A good way to think about it is adding a little spice may be
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2zWTMXY Hypertension, online October 31, 2017.
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