What Happens If You Eat Too Much Spicy Food

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What Happens to Your Body When You Consume Super Hot Peppers

What Happens to Your Body When You Consume Super Hot Peppers

When Ed Currie began crossbreeding chilies from around the world in 2003, he had no intention of creating the world's hottest pepper. He was actually attempting to increase the levels of capsaicinoids, which are found in peppers, because he believes they have medicinal properties and can help protect against heart disease and cancer. Currie told BuzzFeed News, "I wanted more of that good stuff." Capsaicin, the most common capsaicinoid, is responsible for the pepper's fiery flavor.

"I knew it was hot because everyone started vomiting when we gave them out," Currie explained. Currie decided to find out where the pepper ranked on the Scoville scale, which uses Scoville heat units (SHU) to measure capsaicin, after a few successful growing seasons. In 2005, he collaborated with chemistry professor Cliff Calloway and his graduate student team at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Currie stated that "his initial measurement [1.56 million SHUs] was the hottest he'd ever seen."

Currie claims that the Carolina Reaper has 1.5 million to 2 million SHUs, depending on the pepper and the growing season. That's about 600 times hotter than a jalapeo pepper, which has a SHU range of 2,500–8,000, and about 8 times hotter than a habanero, which has a SHU range of 200,000–350,000.

In other words, the Carolina Reaper is nearly unbearably hot — or, as Currie put it, "stupid hot." It dethroned the "Trinidad Scorpion Butch T" pepper to win the Guinness World Record for the world's hottest chili pepper in 2013, and has held the title ever since — though Currie claims he's already bred another pepper that's nearly twice as hot, called "Pepper X."

Chili peppers, obviously, aren't new. The powerful plants, which are members of the capsicum genus in the nightshade family, have been around for thousands of years, beginning in Central America and spreading to other continents via trade and globalization. Capsicums, which cause heat, have become a dietary staple in cultures all over the world, valued for their flavor and ability to keep food from spoiling in hot climates.

What's new is that they're now hotter than ever before, and along with the dramatic increase in record-breaking peppers has come an increase in people who eat them in an almost extreme sport-like manner.

From pepper-eating contests and extreme menu items that necessitate liability waivers to social media videos of people eating the Carolina Reaper, Bhut jolokia (ghost pepper), and Samyang "fire noodles," it's not difficult to find people rising to a spicy challenge that often ends in pain and tears. You may have seen the viral video of YouTuber Lizzy Wurst and a friend attempting to eat Carolina Reapers. It is not a happy ending. Neither does this video of BuzzFeed employees attempting the same stunt. Some people, however, appear to enjoy putting themselves through the spicy pain.

Currie refers to "hot culture" as a growing community of people who can't get enough of the heat. They frequently eat Carolina Reaper peppers for fun, compete in deathly hot wing challenges, and demonstrate their spice tolerance at hot sauce expos across the country. "We're all one big family," he explained.

While some people can tolerate extremely hot peppers and advocate for spicy food's health benefits, others have less-than-pleasant experiences and may even end up in the emergency room.

Whether you like it hot or not, one thing is certain: the more spicy it is, the more it hurts. What exactly do hot peppers and other spicy foods do to our bodies, and can you harm yourself by eating too much of them? And, if the heat is so unpleasant, why do we enjoy it so much?


We talked to a few experts to find out.

This is what happens when you bite into a hot pepper.

When capsaicin comes into contact with any skin or mucous membrane, it causes a burning sensation in all mammals. Capsaicin bypasses your taste buds in the mouth and binds to pain receptors on the tongue known as TRPV1. "Capsaicin hits that area and triggers a chemical response between nerve endings, which sends a signal to the brain," Dr. According to Vivek Kumbhari, director of bariatric endoscopy at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Capsaicin also binds to heat receptors on the tongue, which is why spicy food feels "hot."

So "spiciness" is a sensation of pain and heat caused by a chemical reaction between capsaicin and sensory neurons, not a taste. The pepper has its own flavors, but "spiciness" is not one of them. "The Carolina Reaper has a great flavor; it's really sweet at first," Currie said, "then it's like molten lava in your mouth a few seconds later."

Capsaicin deceives the brain into believing that there is a temperature change in the body. Your tongue is like a hot coal, and each breath feels like you're a human flamethrower. Even if the spice isn't actually burning you, the brain receives the same signals and reacts accordingly.

As a result, the body will attempt to cool itself. "One way our bodies do this is by sweating, and another is by breathing quickly," Kumbhari explained. That's why, after eating a spicy meal, you might start panting and feel bullets of sweat roll down your brow.

In addition to cooling things down, your body will try to expel the noxious substance by increasing the production of saliva, mucus, and tears. "The capsaicin microparticles will go up into the nose and your body will try to flush it out... which is why you have a runny nose," Kumbhari explained. You may also experience drooling and watery eyes. Spicy food has the ability to turn anyone into a snotty, crying mess. And while you may instinctively reach for water, this will only serve to spread the heat. Only fats, oils, and alcohol dissolve capsaicin. So dairy products, such as a cold glass of milk or a spoonful of ice cream, and fat-containing foods, such as peanut butter and avocados, are far more effective at relieving symptoms.

The good news is... That sensation of having your mouth on fire is only temporary. Because the sensation of heat and pain is the result of a chemical reaction, it will fade over time as the capsaicin molecules neutralize and stop binding to the receptors.

This usually takes about 20 minutes, according to Currie. It may take a little longer depending on who you are and how hot the pepper is. But don't worry, your tongue will return to normal soon. However, the capsaicin may continue to burn or cause discomfort as it dissolves.


Spicy food may be unpleasant to eat, but it will not burn or damage the digestive tract.

Spicy foods can activate more pain receptors in the esophageal membrane, resulting in a burning sensation in the chest. This is not the same as heartburn, which is caused by acid regurgitation into the esophagus from a leaky valve leading to the stomach, but it may have a similar sensation.

The esophageal sensation, like the fiery pain capsaicin causes in the mouth, is only temporary — and it will not actually burn you.

According to Dr. David Poppers, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City, there is still some debate about whether spicy food causes indigestion or dyspepsia, a nonspecific term for pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. Capsaicin, on the other hand, is not thought to cause a chronic problem in people with a healthy gastrointestinal system. Moderate amounts of spicy food may even help with indigestion for some people. However, if you already have a gastrointestinal health problem, it could be a problem (more on that later).

Spicy food can affect the lungs and cause hiccups on its way down to the stomach. The phrenic nerve, which serves the diaphragm, the muscle that helps us breathe, is thought to be irritated by capsaicin. This irritation can cause involuntary diaphragmatic spasms, also known as hiccups. According to Kumbhari, the increased breathing rate may cause you to swallow some air, which can end up in your stomach and cause belching or bloating.

Capsaicin can stimulate the production of gastric mucus and temporarily increase metabolism when it enters the stomach. You may experience pain or cramping as your stomach works to digest the spicy food, but this will not cause actual harm. If the food is extremely hot, it may cause nausea and vomiting. However, if you're eating something moderately spicy, you should be able to handle it.

Capsaicin causes a reaction in the intestines, increasing the rate of digestion. This can be useful if you're eating food that takes longer to digest, but it can also cause things to move too quickly. "Capsaicin can stimulate nerves and draw water into the small bowel, causing it to distend and contract aggressively, resulting in diarrhea," Kumbhari explained.

Not everyone gets the runs after eating spicy food, but for those who do, it may burn just as much on the way out as it did on the way in. "The tissue that lines the upper intestinal tract also lines the anus, so people who eat a lot of spicy food can get perianal burning," Poppers explained.

Most people are bothered by the anal burning sensation. However, if you have hemorrhoids or an anal fissure, a relatively common problem in which there is a small tear in the lining of the anal canal, it could be excruciatingly painful. The pain will eventually go away, but even the softest toilet paper will not be able to soothe a bad butt burn.


Some people, however, should probably avoid the heat.

Spicy foods can aggravate symptoms like heartburn or discomfort in people who already have an underlying indigestion problem, such as acid reflux (GERD), a stomach ulcer, or gallbladder problems. There is no evidence that capsaicin will cause a stomach ulcer, which is most commonly caused by a Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection or long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) pain relievers such as ibuprofen. However, it has the potential to aggravate an existing one.

Hot foods may also be a problem for people who have ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, or Celiac disease, which is an inflammatory bowel disease caused by gluten.

"Capsaicin can make things a lot worse for people who have poor bowels, like Crohn's or Celiac disease, where the protective barrier in the intestines isn't intact." worse," Kumbhari said. People suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can cause diarrhea and constipation, should avoid spicy foods. Capsaicin may not cause inflammation in these cases, but it may worsen symptoms.

There is some evidence, however, that capsaicin may be beneficial to your health, and it is even used in topical creams for muscle and joint pain. "Some studies have shown that it has anti-inflammatory and potential anti-tumor properties, so while spicy food can be irritating, it can also be the opposite," Poppers explained. The extent to which capsaicin can combat or prevent illness is still debatable, but some experts and spicy-food enthusiasts, such as Currie, are optimistic.


As a result, the world's hottest peppers will not harm healthy people. Right?

"How hot is too hot?" you might wonder. Is it possible to become ill from eating too much spicy food? Yes and no, respectively. In theory, spicy food could seriously harm you if consumed at high enough levels — but your body is unlikely to allow this to happen. You'd have to keep eating extremely hot food until you started sweating, shaking, vomiting, and possibly passing out. So it's safe to say that spicy food isn't going to kill you.

Perhaps you've heard of people getting hurt during hot pepper–eating contests, which appear to be terrifying cautionary tales for spice enthusiasts. There's the 34-year-old man who had a rare thunderclap headache and constricted blood vessels in his brain after consuming a Carolina Reaper. Then there's the 47-year-old who went to the hospital after eating a ghost pepper and suffering from spontaneous esophageal rupture, also known as "Boerhaave syndrome."

But there's no need to be alarmed. These cases, according to experts, are extremely rare. Not to mention that both of these people were competing in chili pepper–eating contests, eating things that were far beyond a reasonable level of spiciness and in unusually large quantities and rates. Most of us aren't racing against the clock to eat record-breaking hot peppers. However, if you are competing, be mindful of your body and stop if you begin to feel ill.

Currie specifically warns children not to eat his hottest peppers, especially if they are under the age of eight or are not used to spicy food. "They don't understand what's going on with their bodies, and it can be very frightening or traumatic, and it can prevent them from learning about culinary pleasures in the future," Currie explained.

So, why do some adults continue to be hospitalized as a result of spicy food? Capsaicin's fiery effects in the body can be shocking, even frightening. The throat-burning sensations may even feel similar to an allergic reaction, leading some people to fear anaphylactic shock (which will not occur unless you have a rare capsaicin allergy). There have been reports of people becoming numb or hallucinating after eating extremely hot peppers.

Even if you know the pain will go away after a while, it can still be a traumatic experience. So, when the heat becomes unbearable, people may seek medical attention.

What exactly happens in the hospital? According to the experts, not much. People may be given IV fluids or cold towels to help them cool down, but other than that, it's mostly a waiting game. This applies to people who have eaten hot peppers as well as those who have had oral sex with someone who has eaten very hot peppers. Yes, such a thing exists. In general, getting capsaicin anywhere near your genitals is not a good idea, whether from your own hands or someone else's mouth. Also, keep it away from your face.

As a result, it's critical to exercise caution when handling chili peppers or other extremely spicy foods. Wear plastic gloves when handling and preparing peppers, and wash your hands with soap after carefully removing them before touching anything, especially your face. If you're cutting or blending peppers that are high on the SHU scale, you may also need eye goggles, similar to the ones you'd wear in chemistry class, according to Currie.

If you know you can't tolerate spicy food, or if it makes you vomit or feel sick, don't eat it or use caution. But, if the worst happens and you eat a hotter-than-usual meal or a fiery pepper by accident, try to remain calm — the burning sensation will pass.


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