A PUNGENT substance found in red peppers may help to prevent the sometimes fatal swallowing disorders common in the elderly, according to doctors from Tokohu University, Japan. Difficulties with swallowing are often found in elderly people with conditions such as cerebral atrophy or dementia, and can lead to pneumonia.

In a study involving 20 elderly patients with swallowing disorders, the doctors found that administering capsaicin, a substance that stimulates the sensory nerves, directly into the throat through a nasal catheter triggered the swallowing reflex.

A low dose of capsaicin added to liquid or food could help prevent problems with swallowing, they say in The Lancet.