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Turn down the warmth: Spicy foods linked to memory decline in inactive seniors

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Turn down the warmth: Spicy foods linked to memory decline in inactive seniors

In a recent study published within the journal Scientific Reports, researchers explore the association between the consumption of spicy food and cognitive function related to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients with low physical activity.

Study: Spicy food intake predicts Alzheimer-related cognitive decline in older adults with low physical activity. Image Credit: Latest Africa / Shutterstock.com

Spicy food, physical activity, and cognition

Spicy food results in a sensation of warmth on account of the stimulation of pain receptors on the tongue.

The link between certain tastes, cognitive decline, and AD has been widely studied. For instance, one 15-year longitudinal population-based cohort study reported that consuming greater amounts of spicy food correlated with lower cognitive scores.

Similarly, quite a few preclinical studies have demonstrated that increased capsaicin consumption can result in denervation of the sensory nerves. Nevertheless, it stays unclear whether the consumption of spicy food is related to cognitive decline or AD.

Physical activity has neuroprotective effects on the brain through different mechanisms. In a single in vivo study on mice, researchers found that physical activity reduces excessive glutamate levels within the brain, thereby increasing mitochondrial glutamate oxidation and limiting its toxic effects. Moreover, physical activity has been correlated with higher cognitive function, reduced cognitive decline, in addition to a lower incidence of dementia and AD.

Concerning the study

The present study included 196 adults between 65 to 90 years of age without dementia, 113 of whom were cognitively normal (CN) and 83 with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The study participants were recruited from a dementia screening program held on the memory clinic in Hallym University Dongtan Sacred Heart Hospital in Hwaseong, Republic of Korea.

The CN group included individuals with a Clinical Dementia Rating rating of zero and weren’t diagnosed with dementia or MCI. Study participants diagnosed with MCI reported a Clinical Dementia Rating rating of 0.5.

At the very least certainly one of the 4 episodic memory tests within the Korean edition of the Consortium to Establish a Registry for Alzheimer’s Disease (CERAD) neuropsychological battery showed an age-, sex-, and education-adjusted z-score of lower than one within the CN cohort. These included glossary memory, glossary recognition, glossary recall, and constructional recall tests.

Researchers conducted systematic interviews with participants regarding their consumption of spicy foods. Participants who consumed spicy food no less than once every week prior to now 12 months were asked to report the age at which they began eating spicy food and their preferred level of spiciness to guage the strength of their spicy food intake.

Trained researchers evaluated the potency of spicy foods using internationally recognized scales corresponding to part-per-million (ppm) of capsaicin, Scoville heat units (SHU), and Gochujang hot taste units (GHU) for the spiciness of Korean gochujang or red chili paste.

The participants received clinical assessments from experienced psychiatrists using a standardized protocol that included the CERAD clinical and neuropsychological battery. Moreover, all study participants underwent a neuropsychological assessment protocol that included the CERAD neuropsychological battery, which was administered by trained neuropsychologists.

Researchers evaluated the cognitive domain connected to AD by assessing episodic memory, which is the earliest cognitive alteration noted in AD. Non-memory cognition was also evaluated for comparison.

Results

Ninety-three of the study participants belonged to the ‘not spicy’ group, 58 to ‘low spiciness,’ and 45 to ‘high spiciness.’ A major difference in spiciness level was observed between groups based on their memory rating.

No significant differences were found between groups when it comes to spiciness level, no matter age, sex, apolipoprotein E ε4 allele (APOE4)-positivity, education, clinical diagnosis, depression, vascular risk rating (VRS), annual income, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, dietary styles, blood markers, or other cognitive performances.

The worldwide cognitive rating, as measured by total rating (TS), varied significantly across different levels of spicy strength. Lower TS was significantly related to high spiciness level, but not with low spiciness level.

A major difference in memory scores was observed amongst different levels of spicy strength; nevertheless, no significant difference in non-memory scores were correlated with spice intake. Lower memory scores were significantly related to high spiciness levels, but not with low spiciness levels.

Physical activity was found to moderate the connection between spicy food consumption and global and memory cognition, as indicated by the numerous interaction between the 2 aspects on memory and TS scores.

More specifically, a high spiciness level was linked to lower TS and memory scores in individuals with low physical activity. Nonetheless, this association was not observed in those with high physical activity.

No significant statistical interactions were found between spicy level and age, APOE4-positivity, sex, VRS, and body mass index (BMI).

Conclusions

Consuming spicy food was linked to cognitive decline related to AD, specifically episodic memory, with this association influenced by the impact of physical activity. Thus, clinicians should monitor the intake of spicy foods and physical activity in older adults to forestall cognitive decline or AD.

Journal reference:

  • Hwang, J., Choe, Y. M., Suh, G., et al. (2023). Spicy food intake predicts Alzheimer-related cognitive decline in older adults with low physical activity. Scientific Reports 13(1); 1-11. doi:10.1038/s41598-023-35234-0

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