Indulging in hot foods often becomes a point of pride for people; I've personally witnessed competitions to see who can stuff the most peppers in their mouth without crying. Sure, there's a thrill to it, but these little known dangers of eating spicy foods might make you think twice before the next time you agree to eat an entire jar of jalapeños in under five minutes. Don't say I didn't warn you.
You probably associate spicy foods with danger at least a little bit. They're exciting to eat because of the way your body reacts to them — the burning in your tongue, the sudden sweaty feeling, the watering of your eyes. Spicy foods have never been more popular, with QSR Magazine (a restaurant industry magazine) reporting that "consumer interest in hot and spicy ingredients has increased 10 years in a row." But these exhilarating foods have risks, and you don't want to accidentally get your body in trouble. Romper talked to Megan Meyer, PhD, and Kris Sollid, RD — Director and Senior Director of Science Communication at the International Food Information Council Foundation, respectively — about the hidden risks that come with consuming spicy foods.
Their first tip? Don't eat too much of a good thing. "[I] would caution people against consuming large amounts of extremely spicy peppers such as Carolina Reapers or Pepper X due to the high possibility that they will experience discomfort and pain," Meyers says. Read on for some more risks that come with binging on your favorite spicy ingredients, and remember, moderation is the key.
Stomach Ulcer Pain
It's commonly known that some ulcer sufferers experience pain when eating spicy foods. For years, doctors even thought spicy foods caused ulcers, but recent studies refute that. On the contrary, capsaicin, "the bioactive chemical found in spicy food," has the "ability to block acid secretion, stimulate mucus secretion and promote gastric mucosal blood flow" according to Meyer, giving it healing and preventative qualities. Indeed, some spicy foods are actually shown to prevent stomach ulcers according to Advances in Experimental and Medical Biology, while others can help heal them per the Critical Reviews in Food Science Nutrition.
However, everyone reacts differently to certain foods and some people still experience an increase in ulcer pain after consuming anything spicy, so pay attention to your body's reaction if you do eat something hot.
Blistering Of The Skin
If you've ever been handling peppers in the kitchen and then gotten a rash or blisters on your hand, there's a reason. As Scientific America explained, "spicy foods excite the receptors in the skin that normally respond to heat." and then "the pattern of activity from pain and warm nerve fibers triggers both the sensations and the physical reactions of heat, including vasodilation, sweating and flushing" — basically you'll feel like you're getting burned. But more than a burning sensation on your hands, Meyer tells Romper that the biggest risks to watch out for when eating spicy foods are more internal: gastrointestinal discomfort (pain in the stomach and abdomen) and "potential blistering of the mouth/esophagus."
There's actual science to explain why you find yourself running to the bathroom thirty minutes after you eat a spicy tuna roll. "Capsaicin, which is the compound responsible for the heat we perceive in spicy foods, can accelerate the speed that food moves through our gastrointestinal tracts," explains Sollid, so it's likely you might experience diarrhea after a spicy meal.
But Sollid also warns people against assuming foods with a little kick will give everyone the runs: "Some people can handle spicy foods and others, like those with gastrointestinal disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, tend to have more issues, which is why they’re often counseled to avoid them."
Rosacea Flare Ups
Rosacea is a skin disease marked by frequent blushing, though it's much more inconvenient than simply flushed cheeks. There are actually four kinds of rosacea that range in symptoms from painful redness in the face to full blisters on the skin, and flare ups are no fun no matter what kind you have. And as Sollid explains, "Spicy foods are a common trigger for rosacea symptoms," so it's best to stay away from anything fiery if you have the disease.
Pain In The Mouth And Throat
Some think of the pain that comes with eating spicy food as a thrill, but for others, it's just a reason not to eat anything too hot. Meyer explains to Romper via email that you feel pain when you eat anything spicy thanks to capsaicin, which "activates pain receptors on our nerves, which then sends a signal to the brain often resulting in painful sensations." But the good news is the pain won't cause any longterm effects. "The lasting effect of the burning sensation you feel from spices and the thermal temperature of food are not the same, although they both activate the same receptors responsible for detecting hot substances allowing us to perceive the initial pain," explains Sollid.
About one in five people suffer from canker sores, according to Live Science — the pesky ulcers that pop up in the mouth and cause all kinds of discomfort as you try to eat or talk. As the Cleveland Clinic reported, "hot spicy foods can trigger the development of canker sores," and I doubt an afternoon of hot wings would be worth a week of mouth pain. But it's your call.
You Might Faint
It's not common, but some people do "even pass out from the effects" of eating hot foods according to Tonic. So maybe make sure you're sitting down next time you decide to binge eat jalapeños.
Bottom line, your reaction to spicy foods will depend on your body's needs and sensitivities, but it's best to practice moderation when eating anything hot. And if you are going to indulge, keep some milk on hand to stop that burning on your tongue.