It turns out spicy foods can help you live longer. Ayurveda’s classic digestive formula, called trikatu (or at LifeSpa, Warm Digest), combines ginger, black pepper, and long pepper to support beneficial gut bacteria, blood sugar, cardiovascular health, and more.
A Little Spice is Nice (for Digestion)
One of the most revered herbal formulations in Ayurveda is a combination of three pungent spices—ginger, black pepper, and long pepper—classically called trikatu or three spices.1 The pungent spices found in trikatu have been studied to support the body’s natural detox pathways while boosting digestive efficiency. These herbs support healthy weight, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and cardiovascular health.2,5 Studies also suggest that ginger and peppers are antagonistic to the proliferation of undesirable intestinal bacteria, while supporting the proliferation of beneficial gut bacteria.2 At LifeSpa, I have been using this formula for decades under the name Warm Digest.
The three spices in Warm Digest are well known for activating these properties of digestion:
- Removing ama, or undigested food and toxic substances, from the body
- Enhancing the absorption of nutrients and foods ingested
- Increasing the production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes
Ginger, Black Pepper, Long Pepper, and Longevity
New and emerging research has also linked these spices and a diet rich in hot, pungent, and spicy foods to a significant boost in longevity.2,3,5
Yes, folks who eat hot spicy food live longer. In one study of almost 500,000 people, those who ate spicy food lived 14% longer than those who did not.3
Aging is considered a result of free radical stress that increases the rate of oxidation or cellular damage. Overtime, the accumulation of free radical stress, called reactive oxygen species (ROS), can cause harm to lipids, proteins, and DNA, impair physiological function, and shorten lifespan.4 Pungent spices, including ginger, long pepper, and black pepper, support a healthy response to ROS, resulting in greater longevity.3,4
Long Pepper and Longevity
Long Pepper (Piper longum) is a classic pepper used in Indian cuisine and heralded as an Ayurvedic medicine. While less popular in the West, constituents of piper longum have been used in more than 28 drugs. And 107 of its constituents have been studied to support immune health. Like ginger, there are few conditions that have not been treated by piper longum.6
Recently, one of its constituents, piperlongumine, was found to enhance longevity by increasing autophagy or cellular repair and recycling. Piperlongumine has also been found to increase AMPK, an enzyme that drives energy into cells and is depleted with age, and inhibit mTOR signaling—a critical regulator of cell growth, blood sugar, and slowed aging.7
One of the body’s main activators of autophagy is a protein known as beclin-1. Beclin-1 is often bound by another protein called beclin-2, which blocks beclin-1 from activating the Noble Prize-winning benefits of autophagy. Piperlongumine has been shown to cause these two proteins to released from each other, allowing beclin-1 to fully activate autophagy.8
Black Pepper and Longevity
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), like both ginger and piper longum, is rich in antioxidants that have been studied for a whole laundry list of maladies.9 Piperine, one of black pepper’s main constituents, is a well known bio-enhancer that supports better absorption of other herbs and foods ingested along with it.
The most famous example of this is , the discovery that adding piperine, or black pepper, to turmeric increases its absorption through the intestinal tract by a whopping 2000%.10
Piperine from simple black pepper, like its cousin piperlongumine from the long pepper, has also been shown to increase autophagy and longevity by inhibiting mTOR.11
Ginger and Longevity
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is called the universal spice in Ayurveda because even though it’s hot, it still balances all three dosha
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is called the universal spice in Ayurveda because even though it’s hot, it still balances all three dosha—vata, pitta, and kapha. Ginger’s resume supports digestion, circulation, heart, joint, and brain health. It has also been studied as a longevity agent.4,5 While there are many constituents found in ginger that support its health-promoting benefits, one constituent, called 6-gingerol, was found to be responsible for its longevity benefits. Studies have linked 6-gingerol to increased effectiveness of two of the body’s most important antioxidant enzymes–super oxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase.4 The reduction of ROS from the ingestion of ginger resulted in increased longevity. Studies have also found that both the 6-gingerol and 6-Shogaol in ginger increase longevity by increasing autophagy, through the inhibition of the damaging effects of mTOR.12,13
When NOT to Take Warm Digest
Note: Warm Digest is best for kapha digestive imbalances as pungent spices are an antidote for excessive mucus production. If you are sensitive to spicy foods, consider the following digestive alternatives. Use Cool Digest for pitta digestive concerns, including acid indigestion would . Vata types with sensitive digestion should use Gentle Digest for gas , bloat, and general weakness in the upper digestion.
Ancient Science, Modern Wisdom
Long before the science of autophagy was discovered, long pepper, black pepper, and ginger were regarded as powerful agents of health and longevity, particularly in Ayurveda. Now, science has given us another mechanism for how Warm Digest (trikatu) not only boosts digestive strength and battles against free radical damage, but how enjoying these spices daily may also lead togreater longevity. Add a capsule of Warm Digest before or with each meal and see what how you feel!