Are you a real man if you can’t handle a little spice? Apparently, not so much according to a French study published in late 2014.
The study, entitled “Some Like It Hot”, was published in the journal of Physiology and Behavior. It entailed testing the testosterone levels of one hundred and fourteen adult men with varying degrees of hot sauce added to their food. Interestingly enough, guys with high testosterone levels liked their food spicier than their less daring counterparts .
The key ingredient in anything spicy is a molecule called capsaicin—the same key ingredient in many topical pain relief creams and pepper spray. Capsaicin is an irritant to mammals, whether on the skin or in the mouth. This compound is what gives spicy food it’s burn, and what makes pepper spray so darn effective .
The researchers suggested that a love of spicy food was likely to result in a positive feedback loop with testosterone levels. In other words, much like many other molecular testosterone boosters, higher consumption of capsaicin-containing foods could lead to higher blood and salivary testosterone levels, which in turn could lead to a greater desire for spicy food .
While the study clearly found a strong correlation between salivary testosterone levels and desired level for “spice” in food, it did not clarify a mechanism by which this was possible. It was postulated, however, that higher levels of testosterone in a man could lead to more daring or reckless behaviors in all aspects of life.
So what is the meaning behind this study? Is it all a huge coincidence? Seeing as men with higher testosterone levels tend to be more competitive, their consumption of spicy food could be more indicative of a desire to exert dominance over others rather than being directly due to high testosterone.
Regardless, spicy food has been shown anecdotally to have metabolism-boosting and appetite-suppressive effects, which could affect testosterone levels in a positive way. Let’s take a look at what spicy food can do for the human body.
You’ve probably heard that spicy food can speed up your metabolism, or that it can burn calories. This is actually true. Capsaicin is a specific kind of compound that causes thermogenesis, meaning that it causes the body to release energy and heat up, using extra calories as fuel. It has similarly been linked to fat oxidation or breakdown. Capsinoids, or compounds with some similar properties and structure as capsaicin, have also been shown to have thermogenetic effects, but don’t contribute as much to the spice of food. Capsaicin, specifically, has also been shown to decrease appetite and create the feeling of being full .
Before you start guzzling hot sauce in an attempt to get rid of that stubborn tire of belly fat, remember that thermogenesis caused by capsaicin and capsinoids only accounts for a very small percentage of fat burning, and hasn’t been shown to have any long-term effects on weight loss . This being said, the short-term effects of these compounds have had some anecdotal success. Subjects who demonstrated the most metabolic improvement were individuals who were not used to eating spicy food. This implies that the human body can get desensitized to capsaicin with excess exposure.
Another property of capsaicin is that is demonstrates a bunch of antioxidant activity. Intake of antioxidants is a key part of nutrition, as these compounds help combat the breakdown of body tissue and any harm done by oxidative processes that occur through exposure to harm (think UV rays and skin). A 2002 study in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry indicated that capsaicin is chock-full of compounds like flavonoids, phenolic acids, carotenoids, tocopherols, vitamin A, and ascorbic acid, which protect the body against damage by free radicals . Antioxidants play a big role in the protection of hormone molecules, as we will discuss next.
Now that we’ve covered the basic nutritional benefits that come from the consumption of spicy foods (more specifically capsaicin), it’s time to see how these benefits affect testosterone levels.
A faster metabolism coupled with fat oxidation will always be a good thing when it comes to raising testosterone. The presence of body fat and blood testosterone levels are negatively correlated, and therefore any compound that stimulates fat burning will have a positive effect on T levels.
The antioxidant properties of capsaicin are also very relevant when it comes to testosterone levels. In fact, a study conducted in 2001 used capsaicin as the antioxidative compound to prevent and protect against peroxidation of lipids and liposomal membranes by free radicals. In other words, capsaicin was specifically shown to have antioxidant properties when it came to the damage of lipid-based compounds, like hormones. This basically means that enough capsaicin in your diet can help protect your testosterone from being broken down or oxidized.
Perhaps the best benefit of all from capsaicin is the fact that it is a proven libido-booster. Spicy food causes the human body to release endorphins, giving us a natural high that can have great effects on our sex drives . As you know, high libido and high testosterone are set up to interact through positive feedback, so the effects can build on each other.
At the end of the day, it seems that manlier men are the individuals most likely to consume the spiciest food, whether that be a function of competition, virility, or a true desire for hotter food. Given all the alleged and proven health benefits from capsaicin and capsinoid-rich foods, it seems to be well worthwhile to at least give spicier foods a shot every once in a while to boost the metabolism and curb cravings. So, if you’re as manly as you think you are, you might want to start eating a few chilies every now and then.
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