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Fans of spicy foods have long claimed that eating such foods has some health benefits, and many studies seem to suggest that some of these claims may be accurate. Researchers have studied the health benefits of spicy foods in people who which eat them, and the results of studies on specific components of hot foods, most notably capsaicin, have been applied to spicy foods in general. It is important to remember that no food is a magic bullet, however, and that eating a balanced, healthy diet is extremely important.
Most of the health benefits of spicy foods appear to center around capsaicin, the ingredient that makes chili peppers hot. Other ingredients like turmeric, coriander, and mustard seeds may also confer additional health benefits. One of the most widely accepted claims is that eating spicy foods promotes sweating, opens the sinuses, and encourages the body to cough up mucus, making this food a good thing to eat if a person has a cold. The hot temperature of spicy foods can also promote the opening of the bronchial tubes.
Some studies have suggested that the ingredients in spicy foods may be especially important for the brain. People who eat a lot of foods with certain spices appear to be at a decreased risk of developing degenerative brain and nervous system conditions, and these foods may also help with depression and migraines. Eating spicy foods also increases the metabolism, encouraging people to process food more quickly, leading some researchers to suggest that it may help with weight loss.
Capsaicin is sometimes used topically in pain management, and it appears to be beneficial for pain and inflammation when ingested internally. Spicy foods also promote good circulation, and they appear to lower blood pressure, which reduces strain on the heart. While eating spicy foods will certainly not replace blood pressure medications, it could be a useful supplement to blood pressure management.
Historically, some people have believed that spicy foods are unhealthy, contributing to the development of ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, most ulcers appear to be caused by bacteria, and although some spicy and acidic foods may irritate the condition, they are certainly not the root cause. While some people are extremely sensitive to heat, experiencing discomfort if they eat spicy foods, these foods do not appear to be inherently unhealthy.