The association was similar in both men and women, and was stronger in those who did not consume alcohol.
Frequent consumption of spicy foods was also linked to a lower risk of death from cancer, and ischaemic heart and respiratory system diseases, and this was more evident in women than men.
Fresh and dried chilli peppers were the most commonly used spices in those who reported eating spicy foods weekly, and further analysis showed those who consumed fresh chilli tended to have a lower risk of death from cancer, ischaemic heart disease, and diabetes.
Some of the bioactive ingredients are likely to drive this association, the authors explain, adding that fresh chilli is richer in capsaicin, vitamin C, and other nutrients. But they caution against linking any of these with lowering the risk of death.
Should people eat spicy food to improve health? In an accompanying editorial, Nita Forouhi from the University of Cambridge says it is too early to tell, and calls for more research to test whether these associations are the direct result of spicy food intake or whether this is a marker for other dietary or lifestyle factors.
This is an observational study so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, but the authors call for more research that may “lead to updated dietary recommendations and development of functional foods.”