The Health Benefits of Eating Spicy Food

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Body" by Bill Bryson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are spicy foods good for you? What are the health benefits of eating spicy food?

There are many benefits of eating spicy food, including reducing blood pressure and increasing life expectancy. Although scientists don’t know how to explain it yet, it looks like masochists have it right.

Here’s why you should eat more spicy foods.

Eat Spicy Foods

In his book The Body, Bill Bryson’s discussion reveals that sometimes our nutritional needs can be counterintuitive: Some foods that cause us physical pain, like hot peppers (and foods containing them), can be good for us. 

Bryson references studies showing that there are several benefits of eating spicy foods, including alleviating high blood pressure, reducing your risk of cancer, and increasing your life expectancy. They also cause your body to release endorphins, creating a sensation of pleasure, at the same time that they create a sensation of burning pain in your mouth.

Recall that multiple senses influence your mental perception of a food’s flavor. In the case of hot peppers, pain is one of the senses that influences flavor, because peppers contain a chemical (capsaicin) that artificially stimulates the thermal pain receptors in your mouth, rather than stimulating your taste buds.

The Capsaicin Question

While most studies corroborate Bryson’s assertion that people who eat spicy foods have lower blood pressure and lower mortality rates, no one has yet determined exactly why this is the case. 

One popular hypothesis is that frequently ingesting capsaicin changes the relative populations of microbes in your digestive system, which in turn affects how you digest food. Some scientists think capsaicin affects certain microbes much like it affects your nerve cells, tricking them into perceiving it as heat, which different species of microbes may find beneficial or detrimental.

However, it is also possible that the apparent benefits of eating spicy food could be due to other factors entirely. Many of the studies that found a statistically significant reduction in mortality for people who eat peppers also found statistically significant differences in age, gender, and socioeconomic status between the populations of people who eat peppers and people who don’t. It is difficult to compensate for these other differences with complete accuracy.
The Health Benefits of Eating Spicy Food

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Bill Bryson's "The Body" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full The Body summary :

  • A whirlwind tour of the human body’s various systems
  • Why your sense of smell is probably as good as your dog’s
  • How hot peppers increase your life expectancy

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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