#116 10 Reasons Why Spicy Foods Are Good For Your Heart

August 8th, 2015 by

10 Reasons Why Spicy Foods Are Good For Your Heart

“Have some more,” Mr. Wang said as he eagerly put more food on my plate.

“No thank you,” I tried to respond in Chinese, but no words came out.  My mouth was on fire and my eyes watering.  I really wanted to be a grateful guest but the red hot chili peppers in this Sichuan Chinese dish was far spicier than I had ever experienced before in my life.

Surely, I thought, this much must put me at increased risk for ulcers and it couldn’t be healthy.  Now, 29 years later, there is compelling scientific data that we should eat spicier food.  In fact, these spices may be a key factor to great health and longevity.

In this article, I share 10 scientifically proven reasons why spicy foods are good for your heart.  If you are looking for a very quick summary of this article, here is a TV appearance I did to discuss this blog.

Do Spicy Foods Cause Ulcers?

Growing up, conventional wisdom held that spicy foods caused acid reflux and stomach ulcers.  In fact, many medical experts of the day even recommended that we eat blander foods.

No doubt, some foods like pizza, sausage, and deli meats can aggravate “ulcer-like” symptoms.  However, the active component of chili peppers, capsaicin, has been shown in many studies to prevent or reverse ulcers. Indeed, cultures or groups of people who eat the most chili peppers rarely get ulcers.

Why is the Media Now Discussing Spicy Foods?

Unless you have been on a “news fast” this past week, you have undoubtably heard many reports of the recent Harvard study on eating spicy foods.  In fact, this study was discussed in nearly every major U.S. newspaper and media outlet this past week.

There is a good reason why this study deserved all of the attention it received.  This was a mega-study.  A study so large that it included 487,375 healthy Chinese people, ages 30-79, who were followed for an average of 7.2 years.

These Harvard researchers did a good job of controlling for 20 different lifestyle factors which could have influenced the results of this study, like smoking status, vegetable intake, exercise frequency, etc. so that they really were only looking at the mortality effects of eating chili peppers.

Over the course of this 7.2 year study, 20,224 of the study participants died.  Researchers then analyzed the cause of all deaths and compared these findings to their self-reported intake of chili peppers.

10 Reasons Why Spicy Foods Are Good For Your Heart

Based on the results of this Harvard study, as well as other published studies, here are 10 compelling, and scientifically proven reasons, why spicy foods are good for your heart.

1. Lose Weight

As I have discussed in a previous blog (#60), many studies have shown that chili peppers decrease appetite and increase metabolism.  This double combination can definitely kick start any healthy weight loss effort.

2. Healthy Gut Flora

Capsaicin, the active component in chili peppers, possesses powerful antibacterial properties.  By keeping these bad bacteria away, some data suggests that capsaicin may promote a healthy gut flora. From other studies we are now learning that a healthy gut is a key factor in preventing heart disease.

3. Less Diabetes

While diabetes prevention likely goes hand-in-hand with weight loss and a healthy gut flora, studies show that chili pepper eaters have less diabetes.  While this Harvard study did not convincingly show this, the study did show a trend toward less diabetes in people eating chili peppers at least three times a week.

4. Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Effects

Countless studies have confirmed that capsaicin has very potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.  These effects assist the immune system in the balance between inflammation and infection control.

5. Better Immune System

As discussed above, capsaicin optimizes our immune system function.  Is it any wonder then that in this Harvard study, chili pepper eaters were 26% less likely to die from infections if they ate chili peppers at least three times a week.  This benefit was even greater in women where a 45% decreased risk of death from infections was seen.

6. Lower Blood Pressure

Capsaicin, through activation of the TRPV1 receptor, has significant blood pressure lowering effects.  Ideal blood pressure control, in turn, has been shown to prevent atrial fibrillation, heart attacks, kidney failure, strokes, and dementia.

7. Less Cancer

Many studies confirm the anticancer properties of capsaicin.  Indeed, in this Harvard study, researchers showed a modest 8% reduction in cancers in those people eating chili peppers on most days.  Other studies have shown that cultures who eat a lot of spices, like India, have a much lower incidence of cancer.

8. Better Lung Function

A surprising finding of this Harvard study was that even just eating chili peppers once a week decreased your risk of dying from respiratory diseases by 33%.  While researchers are still not sure of this connection, I suspect it likely has something to do with less respiratory infections.

9. Less Heart Disease

As you might expect, this Harvard study also showed much less heart disease deaths.  Indeed, eating chili peppers at least once weekly decreased your chances of dying from a heart attack by 18%.

10. Live Longer

While most people don’t eat chili peppers to live longer, this spice is clearly linked to a longer lifespan.  In this Harvard study, your risk of premature death was reduced by 14% if you ate chili peppers three times a week.  Even those who ate chili peppers once weekly saw a 10% decreased risk of premature death.

Does It Matter How Often You Eat Chili Peppers?

Do you have to eat chili peppers every day to get all of the benefits we have discussed in this article?  The simple answer is “no.”  Most of the benefit appears to be from going from no chili pepper in your diet to eating some at least once weekly.

Fresh, Dried, or Processed?

While eating dried or processed chili pepper is easiest, from this Harvard study it appears that the greatest health benefits are seen with fresh chili peppers.  For example, fresh chili peppers contain more potassium and vitamins C, A, K and B6.

A Contrarian View of This Study

Is capsaicin the “secret sauce” for good health or is there something else at play in this Harvard study?  For the contrarians out there, let me offer several other explanations for the health benefits observed with chili peppers.

First, perhaps the benefit may simply be due to a selection bias.  For example, people suffering from chronic medical conditions tend to prefer blander foods.

Second, healthier people are more likely to have the energy to cook at home with spices.  Thus, once again, it may not be the chili peppers but rather the fact that healthier people are drawn to this spice.

Third, Chinese people cooking with chili peppers are also much more likely to include other spices, like garlic, ginger, and curry, which also have similar health benefits.

Closing Thoughts

With all of the compelling scientific data I have presented in this article, you would think that I was a regular chili pepper eater.  Truth be told, I rarely eat it unless I am eating Chinese food at a friends’ house or at a restaurant.

My challenge for all of us is to try and include more spices in our cooking at home.  Not only will our food taste much better but our health may also significantly improve!

Do you regularly cook with spices?  What spices do you like to use the most?  Please leave a comment below so that our community can benefit from your experience.

#071 Do You Really Need 8 Glasses of Water Daily?

February 2nd, 2015 by

Do You Really Need 8 Glasses of Water Daily?

Your mother probably told you to drink 8 glasses of water each day. Many health “experts” also recommend getting at least 8 glasses (64 ounces or about 2 liters) of water each day.

Are you wondering if there’s actually any science backing up this advice?  Just how much water should we be drinking to lose weight and maintain optimal brain and heart function?

What the Science Tells Us about 8 Glasses of Water

You might be surprised to learn that there are actually no medical studies backing up the practice of drinking 8 glasses of water each day.  While there have been studies done on this subject, none of these studies to date have shown any significant benefit.

If there are no data supporting the medical need to drink 8 glasses of water each day then the question naturally arises, how much water should you drink?  The simple answer is, it depends.  In this article we will explore possible reasons why you may want to increase your water intake depending on your weight, brain, and heart goals.

How much water should you drink to stay hydrated?

It appears that the amount really depends on the individual person, where they live, and how active they are. Adults who live in an average climate and are moderately active can likely maintain their health drinking less than 8 glasses per day.  This doesn’t mean that you want to skimp on drinking your water however.

In contrast, those people who exercise frequently or live in very hot climates can lose up to 4 liters of fluid in just one hour of intense exercise on a hot day.  For these people, staying hydrated during a work out is critical for their health and to prevent a heat stroke.  These people could easily drink far more than 2 liters of water in a day.

Why is water so healthy?

Did you know that water makes up about 70% of your body?  Water helps to flush toxins from your bloodstream and cells, allowing your body to experience a daily “detox.”

Staying hydrated is also important for maintaining your energy, getting a good night’s sleep, and keeping your mood up.  If you want to appear young, water can also play an important role.  For example, if you are not drinking enough water, you may appear aged and can suffer from rough or cracked skin, bloating, or puffiness.

Can you really tell the difference between hunger and thirst?

Strangely, medical studies have shown us that we often cannot tell the difference between hunger and thirst. Unfortunately, most of us end up eating something when we really may just be thirsty.

Water helps us to feel full because it takes up a lot of volume in our stomachs.  Sometimes we may think we are hungry, and may even experience hunger pains, but in fact it may be that we are just experiencing mild dehydration.

When we don’t stay hydrated, we don’t feel the best that we could.  We tire easily, feel moody, get headaches, and we don’t function well overall. These uncomfortable feelings make us crave food because we are looking to food for more energy when all we really need is more water.

Water can help us to eat less at meal times as well. Try drinking 2 glasses of water right before you eat a meal and you may find you eat less since your stomach will feel partially full and you won’t be confusing thirst for hunger at all.

Why do water drinkers stay thin?

Have you ever noticed that people who carry a water bottle around with them seem to appear healthier and slimmer than most people?  What is the science behind water drinking and maintaining a healthy weight?

Besides not confusing hunger for thirst, the obvious answer is that if you are drinking a lot of water you probably are not drinking soda pop, fruit juice, or other sugary drinks.  This alone could cause significant weight loss.  I commonly see patients lose more than 20 pounds just by giving up all soda, fruit juice, sports drinks, and other sugary drinks.

Even diet soda may cause significant weight gain in many studies!  Studies show that even though you are not getting any “calories” from diet sodas, the aspartame in diet sodas is feeding your bad gut bacteria which, in turn, may cause weight gain.

Water also causes a significant calorie burn through the process of cold thermogenesis.  If you want to learn more about how to boost your metabolism through cold thermogenesis, I recently wrote an article on this subject (blog #68).

Studies have shown that by drinking 8 glasses (2 liters) of cold water, your body can be forced to burn an extra 400 calories!  Researchers report that most of this 400 calorie weight loss was due to the energy required by the body to heat the cold water up to body temperature.  If you do the math, drinking 2 liters per day of cold water, without increasing your food intake, would burn 42 extra pounds per year.

Since there is no risk in drinking more water for most people (see disclaimer at the bottom of this article), and you might even feel more energetic thereby increasing your work out routine, why not start drinking more water today?

Boost Cognition and Memory with Water

Could helping your child score well on the SAT or ACT college entrance tests be as simple as drinking more water?  Studies have consistently shown that children do better on tests when they are hydrated.  Even adults, based on medical studies, do better on cognition tests when they are well hydrated with water.

Other studies have shown that dehydration, or even relative mild dehydration like not drinking enough water during the day, can impair brain function.  Studies have even shown that fighter pilots don’t fly their planes as well if they are not drinking enough water.  Thus, if you want optimal brain and memory function learn to love water.

How much water should you drink to prevent heart disease?

If your goal is to prevent heart disease and never see a cardiologist, like me, then there are actually some data supporting how much water you should drink.

The Seventh Day Adventists are one of the healthiest groups of people in the world.  The Adventists have been extensively studied and have even been featured in the best selling health book, Blue Zones (affiliate link).

In this study, researchers closely followed 20,297 California Adventists for 6 years.  Interestingly, they found that those Adventists drinking 5 or more glasses of water each day were 54% less likely to die from heart disease!

Just how does water protect against a heart attack?  Could the benefit from water be because they drank water rather than soda pop, fruit juice, or other sugary drinks?  Likewise, could a high water intake be a manifestation of someone who is generally more health conscientious or someone who exercises a lot?

There are some studies that suggest that relative dehydration can cause you to have “thicker blood” or a higher blood viscosity.  If you are not drinking enough water then your blood particles are more likely to clump together and form clots.  These clots could lead to a heart attack or a stroke.  Regardless of how you can prevent a heart attack by drinking more water, it seems to me that drinking at least 5 glasses of water each day is a very healthy habit which we should adopt.

Dr. Day’s 6 Water Rules

To help you maintain a healthy weight and allow your brain and heart to function at its best, let my give you my six rules when it comes to drinking water.

1. Drink water instead of soda, fruit juice, or other sugary drinks

If you want to torpedo your health and your waist line, then drinking soda in either the high fructose corn syrup or diet varieties, juice, or other sugary drinks like sports drinks is a great strategy.  On the other hand, if you want to feel energized and maintain a healthy weight learn to love water.  If water isn’t yet your thing, try adding some fresh lemon or lime to your water.

2. If you are hungry between meals drink water first

Learn to notice the difference between your body’s true hunger signals, versus thirst signals. If you feel hungry between meals, try drinking something first. Wait 30 minutes. If you still feel hungry after 30 minutes, you probably are hungry and should eat something.

3. Drink water to boost your metabolism

To keep your body’s metabolism high, stay hydrated.  As discussed in this article, you can burn a significantly high amount of calories each day by drinking 2 liters of water.

4. Stay hydrated for optimal brain performance

Our brains require plenty of water to function optimally.  Stay hydrated to boost your cognition and memory.

5. Drink at least 5 glasses of water daily for your your heart

While 8 glasses of water (2 liters) has not been shown to make you “healthier,” there are data that drinking at least 5 glasses of water each day may protect your heart.  This may keep your blood viscosity low and prevent clots from forming.

6. Keep water with you throughout the day

As it is so easy for us to become dehydrated through the day, learn to carry a glass or stainless steel water bottle.  Having the water bottle with you is a great reminder to drink more.

How much water do you drink each day?  Do you carry a water bottle with you?


Please remember that if you suffer from heart failure, kidney failure, or other medical conditions you should discuss your optimal daily water intake first with your physician.