Li Q, et al. Hypertension. 2017;doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.117.09950.
Wainford RD. Hypertension. 2017;doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.117.10025.

October 31, 2017
2 min read

Spicy foods may reduce salt intake, BP


Li Q, et al. Hypertension. 2017;doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.117.09950.
Wainford RD. Hypertension. 2017;doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.117.10025.

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Adults who enjoyed spicy foods ate less salt and had lower BP, potentially reducing risk for MI and stroke, according to a study published in Hypertension.

“Current measures for reducing salt intake include education on healthy lifestyles, a campaign for the use of salt spoons, and the promotion of low-sodium salt with the addition of magnesium and potassium. However, traditional cooking habits and changes in the taste of food have dampened the effectiveness of salt reduction at the population level.” Qiang Li, MD, from the Center for Hypertension and Metabolic Diseases at the Daping Hospital in China and the Chongqing Institute of Hypertension, and colleagues wrote. “Thus, an alternative strategy for reducing salt intake may be to modify the perception of saltiness.”

Li and colleagues studied data from 606 Chinese adults to determine their spicy vs. salty preferences.

Salt preference was assessed by a salt perception test, and salt tolerance was assessed by a salt super-threshold test.

Salt preference, intake

Salt preference was associated with daily salt intake (P < .01). Older age, physical labor, hypertension and lower levels of education were all associated with a higher salt preference.

Compared with those who had a low salt preference, participants with a high salt preference had about a 1.8 g per day (95% CI, 0.7-2.9) increase in salt intake, a 5 mm Hg (95% CI, 1.7-8.4) increase in systolic BP and a 4.4 mm Hg (95% CI, 2-6.7) increase in diastolic BP (P < .01 for all).

A higher salt preference was associated with a lower spice preference (P < .01), a more sensitive perception of saltiness (P = .001) and a lower threshold for declaring a solution to be intolerably salty (P = .001).

Participants with a higher spice preference had a lower salt intake and lower systolic BP (118 mm Hg vs. 126 mm Hg) and diastolic BP (73 mm Hg vs. 78 mm Hg) compared with those who had a low spice preference.


In a study of activity in the insula and orbitofrontal cortex, the researchers found evidence of increased brain metabolic activity in those with high salt intake and preference.

When a 0.5 mol/L of capsaicin, the chemical that gives chili peppers their spiciness, was administered, there was a reported increase in perception of saltiness without burning on the tongue. In addition, the capsaicin showed increased activity in the brain that was previously stimulated by high salt intake.

“The major findings in this study demonstrate that the enjoyment of spicy taste enhanced the sensitivity to salty taste and lowered the daily salt intake and blood pressure in participants,” the researchers wrote. “Furthermore, high salt intake and salt preference were closely correlated with increased brain activity in the insula and [orbitofrontal cortex] of the participants.”

Intervention may succeed

In an accompanying editorial, Richard David Wainford, PhD, of the department of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics and the Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute at Boston University School of Medicine, wrote: “Despite many ongoing global public health campaigns designed to reduce dietary salt intake, including those promoted by the American Heart Association and WHO, global and Chinese daily consumption of salt continues to exceed recommended limits. ... A lifestyle intervention that adds taste to the diet, in the form of extra spice and flavor, versus reduction of the pleasure given by the salt we add to our food may have more success as a public health strategy to promote population-level dietary salt reduction.” – by Cassie Homer

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.