Capsaicin, the molecule responsible for the characteristic spiciness in chillies, has long been known for its fiery flavour. However, researchers are now turning their attention to its potential health benefits, hoping to uncover its ability to combat one of the leading causes of death in the country.
Tammy Thornton, an Honours student at the University’s School of Health and Medical Sciences, said the study aims to investigate capsaicin’s impact on brain health and cognition in humans. Previous research in animal models has already shown that capsaicin can improve memory, cognition, and even reduce Alzheimer’s plaques, making the prospect of its benefits in humans particularly exciting.
“We recently published a review where we found that collectively, capsaicin can reduce fat mass and blood pressure in humans,” Thornton said.
“We haven’t found any other studies that have tested this in humans, so this is a really exciting study – a world-first of its kind.”
Dementia, the second leading cause of death in Australia, affects a significant number of individuals, with women being particularly vulnerable. The importance of finding effective preventive treatments cannot be overstated, and this trial’s potential impact offers hope to millions affected by the condition.
Dr Edward Bliss, a Medical Laboratory Science lecturer at the University, highlighted the study’s dual focus on both dementia and obesity risk factors.
“Over the last 10 years across the Darling Downs and West Moreton regions, the rates of people classified as being overweight or obese has risen to around two in three (67 per-cent),” Dr Bliss said. “If we can reduce the risk of both conditions – obesity and dementia – simultaneously, then clearly, our communities will benefit.”
The pilot trial will span a 12-week period and will be conducted at the University’s Toowoomba and Ipswich campuses, marking the first multi-centred human intervention trial at the institution.
To participate in the trial, individuals must meet specific inclusion criteria, including being between 50-80 years old and either overweight or obese. Smoking and uncontrolled diabetes are among the exclusion criteria, and participants must not have any known allergies to chilli.
As the world watches the progress of this pioneering human trial, there is a growing sense of anticipation and hope for the potential discovery of a groundbreaking preventive treatment for dementia. If capsaicin proves to be the real MVP of the food world, the implications for global health could be truly transformative.