Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling
FRIDAY, July 8, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Spicy food challenges are all the rage these days, but can snacking on sizzling red chili peppers and hot sauces harm you?
A nutrition expert from University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio suggests that while it can burn your tongue at the table and trigger gastrointestinal upset as it travels through your body, it could actually help improve your health throughout life.
Capsaicin, the ingredient found in bell peppers that causes that characteristic heat, is an oil-like chemical compound that binds to pain receptors on the tongue and throughout the digestive tract. It’s the capsaicin that makes your brain feel like it’s on fire when you bite into a jalapeno pepper.
“But capsaicin doesn’t actually burn you,” explained Jayna Metalonis, dietitian at University Hospitals. “Instead, it tricks your brain into thinking a temperature change has occurred, causing it to feel hot and painful.”
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It’s just your body’s attempt to cool down and purge the more memorable spice-induced symptoms, like runny nose, sweating, watery eyes, and even drooling. The study found that when consuming hot food, body temperature actually rises in an effort to cool the body – so the feeling of a floating head and burning skin isn’t just in your head. .
Capsaicin usually detaches from pain receptors in the mouth after about 20 minutes, but a whole new set of symptoms begins once it begins to pass through the digestive system. As the irritant passes, it can cause burning sensations in the chest, hiccups, swelling in the throat, nausea, vomiting, painful stools and even diarrhea.
But the short-term struggle may be worth it for the long-term benefits, the investigators suggested.
According to Metalonis, research has shown that those who ate spicy foods six times a week had a reduced risk of premature death compared to people who ate spicy foods less than once a week. Benefits included lower cholesterol, lower risk of heart disease, better stomach and intestinal health, and even weight loss. But while these studies found an association, they did not prove a causal relationship.
Capsaicin is also the key ingredient in a number of pain relievers used to treat conditions ranging from arthritis to fibromyalgia to headaches.
“The good news is that for most healthy people – even those who participate in “extreme” challenges involving the consumption of record-breaking hot peppers – eating very spicy foods poses no serious or lasting harm to your health and will not generally does not require medical treatment,” Metalonis said in a hospital press release.
But she noted that there were exceptions.
The ‘chip challenge’, a viral social media challenge on TikTok involving eating an extremely hot chip loaded with Carolina Reaper spices, has occasionally landed people in the ER with a ‘thunderclap headache’ , and spontaneous ruptures in the throat are rare, but have happened. So while chili peppers can make your dinner party a bit more exciting, it’s always best not to consume too much of a good thing, Metalonis said.
Visit the US National Library of Medicine to learn more about how capsaicin is used as a topical treatment for certain conditions.
SOURCE: University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, news release, June 24, 2022