Spicy food challenges are all the rage these days, but can munching red hot peppers and sizzling hot sauces harm you?
One nutrition expert from University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio suggests that while it may burn your tongue at the dinner table and trigger some gastrointestinal distress as it travels through your body, it could actually help improve your lifelong health.
What happens when you eat spicy food?
Capsaicin, the ingredient found in 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 causes your brain to feel like you’re on fire when you bite into a jalapeno pepper.
“But capsaicin does not actually burn you,” explains Jayna Metalonis, a dietician at University Hospitals. “Instead, it tricks your brain into thinking a temperature change has occurred, resulting in the sensation of heat and pain.”
It’s just your body’s attempt to cool down and purge the more memorable spice-induced symptoms, like runny noses, sweating, teary eyes, and even drooling. The study found that while consuming hot food, body temperature does actually rise in an effort to cool the body down — so that the head-floating, skin-on-fire sensation isn’t all in your head.
Capsaicin typically unbinds from pain receptors in the mouth after about 20 minutes, but then a whole new slew of symptoms begins once it starts traveling through the digestive system.
As the irritant passes through, it can cause burning sensations in the chest, hiccups, swelling of the throat, nausea, vomiting, painful bowel movements, and even diarrhea.
But the short-term struggle may be worth it for the long-term payoff, the investigators suggest.
RELATED: How Hot Is Too Hot: Spicy Foods & Your Kids
What are the benefits of spicy food?
According to Metalonis, research has shown that those who ate spicy food six times a week had a reduced risk of