Chile peppers are such a peculiarly fiery sensation, of course we’d wonder if they can’t just burn away a cold, maybe even the coronavirus.

We’d be mistaken, popular as it has become to obliquely market foods and supplements as strengthening the immune system, helping the body fight off viruses and bacteria.

Medical Chilli

Studies exploring the effects of chile pepper consumption on health and longevity have regularly been published, though.

Discussions about the good or bad effects of spicy foods are around, all the time.

And perhaps there is something special to be said about them now, while the Covid-19 pandemic continues… in a different way from what is usually assumed, though.

Chile Peppers, Longevity… and Dementia

Newer studies and meta-analysis results that have made their rounds through the media found that higher consumption of chilli was associated with lower mortality, and therefore with longer life span. This held true for e.g. China, as well as for Italy.

A bit ironically, spicy food consumption (in China) was associated with greater body mass index (BMI, as a measure of obesity) among males – and lower in females – and higher consumption of chilli was also found to be associated with higher rates of dementia.

Go, figure – if you haven’t already forgot what you just read ;-p

There have been many analyses finding antibacterial, antiviral, and other antimicrobial effects of capsaicin. Various, good or bad, associations with diseases. Certain statements about the vitamin content of chile peppers.

The latter may get us to an interesting point.

Food, Thy Medicine

It is little use to seek a magic bullet against disease in any particular type of food. Yeah, yeah, let thy food be thy medicine and all that… but if you really need a medicine, get an outright drug against the disease.

Food against disease, that doesn’t work like any one magic bullet, let alone like a vaccination.

It does work as part of a generally healthy way of living, including a way of eating.

Here, when it comes to a good diet, chile peppers have a role to play. And perhaps a particular role in respect to the coronavirus pandemic.

Peppers, The Peculiar Vegetable

As a major ingredient, not just a sauce splashed on top, chile peppers are yet another vegetable in diets already striking a good balance between carbs, proteins, and plants.

If you just douse your steak in sweet hot sauce and eat chili fries instead of plain potatoes, that is not going to have much of a positive effect on your problematic diet.

If you follow a way of eating like the Italian in the study on longevity mentioned above, like the Chinese or Indian or Southeast Asian or traditional Mexican, in which plant foods play the major role, then the chilli is another of those vegetables. And it is a special one, giving the food more interest, more pizzazz. Maybe it also adds more vitamin C, maybe vitamin A, maybe a special effect from the capsaicin.

That won’t even be the main story.

The diet overall just isn’t bad. It’s enjoyable and it’s good in terms of nutrition. Add a lifestyle that isn’t just you sitting around, and the effects will be even better.

There is something to be argued for a special role of spicy chilli, however.

The Special Spicy Effect

For one, in a more direct link with the effects of a SARS-CoV-2 infection, there is the connection between spicy foods and the loss of smell and taste.

Now, no, I do not mean the old lark about spicy foods that are so burning hot, you can’t taste anything anymore. That is biologically not quite true, and even if it were, it would be a misunderstanding of what spicy foods are about.

Loss of Smell, Taste – but of Heat?

Rather, spicy foods are typically very flavorful ones, as well.

In so much of “Western”, European(-influenced), industrialized food, there is so little flavor, you might not even quite notice if you are losing your sense of taste. With flavorful spicy foods, you most certainly would.

Infections which cause a loss of taste and smell, like COVID-19, have the strange side effect of making food less interesting, making life more, well, bland.

Interest in this issue has been increasing.

The potential role spicy tastes could play should be considered more. Can people with a loss of smell and taste still at least notice spiciness? Is that also lost? If it’s maintained, does it help with appetite?

Even if you avoid a COVID-19 infection, the whole situation can get you down. And adding chilli to your diet can exert an almost magical power.

The Happiness of Eating Hot

When you have foods that make you sweat, that make your mouth burn and your eyes water, you get thrown back on your body-ness. You remember that you are a living and feeling being.

Best case, the opiates that the burn releases will directly make you feel good.

Worst case, you feel like you are burning up and have some other, more direct, worries than a situation you can do so little about.

With that: Stay safe, eat spicy!