If you’re male, you muscles are several percent stronger if you ingest red pepper a few times a week. Or cayenne, or sambal sauce. This is evident from an epidemiological study that researchers from Tianjin Medical University in China published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging.
The researchers studied 3717 Chinese adults, and determined with how much force they could squeeze a gripper with their hands. Using questionnaires, they also found out how often they consumed red peppers weekly.
The more often men consumed red peppers a week, the stronger they were. In women, this same trend was present, but it was not statistically significant.
The researchers also looked at the consumption of sweet peppers, but found no association That’s interesting. Sweet peppers are cultivated variants of the red pepper plant, which have lost their ability to produce capsaicin – the ‘burning’ and ‘hot’ substance in red pepper – in a centuries-long selective breeding process. Capsaicin may therefore be the causative factor of the positive effect on the muscle strength that the researchers discovered.
By suppressing nuclear factor kappa B [NF-kB], capsaicin inhibits the activity of numerous inflammatory factors which can stimulate muscle breakdown. According to fundamental research, capsaicin can also stimulate the production of mitochondria in cells by activating PGC-1-alpha. This implies that cells can convert more nutrients into energy.
“We demonstrate here that the frequency of chili consumption, as measured by a self-administered questionnaire, is independently related to handgrip strength in adult males”, summarize the researchers. “These results suggest that a chili-rich diet may have a beneficial effect on the prevention of handgrip strength decline.”
“Considering that the muscle strength is part of the components of sarcopenia, and the health consequences of sarcopenia are increasingly being recognized. This finding has important public implications.”
“Additional well-designed clinical studies or prospective interventional studies are necessary to confirm the effectiveness of chili in the prevention of loss of muscle strength.”