July 14, 2006 -- Spicing up your diet with cayenne chili might lower insulin spikes after meals.
That news comes from researchers at Australia's University of Tasmania, including graduate student Kiran Ahuja and Madeleine Ball, MD, who heads the university's School of Life Sciences.
For three weeks, participants ate their normal diet, without any spices. Then they headed to the researchers' lab after fasting overnight.
At the lab, participants provided blood samples and then ate a meal consisting of a burger, bread, and a sugar drink. They were told to finish the meal within 10 minutes; afterwards, they provided more blood for post-meal tests.
After one more week on their spice-free diet, the participants repeated the meal test. But this time, their burger was seasoned with a cayenne chili spice blend.
The researchers used the blood samples to measure participants' levels of insulin -- a hormone that controls blood sugar -- before and after the test meals. Average insulin levels spiked higher after the bland meal than after the chili-seasoned meal, the study shows.
Why Insulin Matters
Here's why insulin levels are important. Abnormally high insulin levels may be a sign of insulin resistanceinsulin resistance, in which the body falters in its ability to control blood sugar. Ultimately, that may lead to type 2 diabetesdiabetes -- the most common type of diabetes -- and other health problems.
Participants repeated the four-week cycle, with one change: They added the cayenne chili spice blend to their usual daily diet.
Afterwards, they had a final test meal: bread, chili-seasoned burger, and sugar drink. Once again, they provided blood samples before and after that meal. And once again, their post-meal insulin increase was lower than it had been after three weeks of bland food.
The researchers aren't exactly sure how chili helped reduce post-meal insulin spikes. They note that capsaicin -- the fiery chemical in chili -- and chili's antioxidants might play a role. Ahuja's team calls for more studies on chili's effects on insulin spikes.