Enjoyment of Spicy Flavor Enhances Central Salty-Taste Perception and Reduces Salt Intake and Blood Pressure

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Abstract

High salt intake is a major risk factor for hypertension and is associated with cardiovascular events. Most countries exhibit a traditionally high salt intake; thus, identification of an optimal strategy for salt reduction at the population level may have a major impact on public health. In this multicenter, random-order, double-blind observational and interventional study, subjects with a high spice preference had a lower salt intake and blood pressure than subjects who disliked spicy food. The enjoyment of spicy flavor enhanced salt sensitivity and reduced salt preference. Salt intake and salt preference were related to the regional metabolic activity in the insula and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) of participants. Administration of capsaicin—the major spicy component of chili pepper—enhanced the insula and OFC metabolic activity in response to high-salt stimuli, which reversed the salt intensity–dependent differences in the metabolism of the insula and OFC. In animal study, OFC activity was closely associated with salt preference, and salty-taste information processed in the OFC was affected in the presence of capsaicin. Thus, interventions related to this region may alter the salt preference in mice through fiber fluorometry and optogenetic techniques. In conclusion, enjoyment of spicy foods may significantly reduce individual salt preference, daily salt intake, and blood pressure by modifying the neural processing of salty taste in the brain. Application of spicy flavor may be a promising behavioral intervention for reducing high salt intake and blood pressure.

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