I’ve met too many people who swear that eating spicy foods is dangerous. Patients often tell me they've giving up spicy foods to get healthy. When my wife and I let our kids eat something spicy, my in-laws shake their heads at us. However, last time I checked, having a little Tabasco sauce won't ruin your life.
Nonetheless, there’s some confusion about whether spicy foods are healthy or dangerous. In this post, I want to shed some evidence-based light on eating spicy foods to separate fact from fiction.
Are spicy foods good for you? Of course they are!
Capsaicinoids, which include the compound capsaicin, are the chemical components of peppers that create their spicy taste. Research over the past couple of decades has demonstrated that capsaicinoids — and thus, spicy foods — also possess several health benefits.
What are the health benefits of spicy foods?
Eating spicy foods may help you live longer
According to an extensive population-based study published in BMJ in 2015, “Compared with those who ate spicy foods less than once a week, those who consumed spicy foods 6 or 7 days a week showed a 14 percent relative risk reduction in total mortality.” The association between spicy food consumption and total mortality “was stronger in those who did not consume alcohol than those who did.”
It’s ok to eat your spicy foods, but cut down on the margaritas with your spicy tacos.
Can spicy foods cause ulcers?
Spicy foods don’t cause ulcers—they may actually help ulcers.
As a gastroenterologist, I diagnose people with ulcers all the time. When I tell someone they have an ulcer after a procedure, almost everyone is quick to blame spicy foods. People frequently ignore the fact they are taking ibuprofen ‘around the clock’ or that they may have a bacteria called H. Pylori (one of the world’s most common causes of ulcers).
Contrary to popular belief, multiple studies show that capsaicin actually inhibits acid production in the stomach. As a matter of fact, capsaicin has been considered as a medication for preventing ulcer development in people who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
If you’re worried about an ulcer, go see your friendly neighborhood gastrointestinal (GI) doc (you can look me up if you’re in Chicago). Most importantly, when seeing your doc, make sure you have a conversation about any anti-inflammatory meds you’re using.
Spicy foods don’t cause hemorrhoids, but they may irritate anal fissures
In 2006, in a study published in Diseases of the Colon and Rectum, researchers randomly assigned people with large hemorrhoids to taking a placebo capsule or a capsule of red hot chili powder. The participants had to rate the effects of the pills on their hemorrhoid symptoms. The study found that the spicy capsules had no effect on hemorrhoid symptoms.
The story is a little different for people with small tears in the anus called anal fissures. Anal fissures are extremely painful — ’make a grown adult cry’ painful. A study in 2008 demonstrated that spicy foods aggravate symptoms associated with anal fissures. In the study, patients were randomly given a week of placebo and a week of chili pepper capsules. They had to keep track of anal fissure symptoms over the study period. Eighty-one percent of the participants felt better on the placebo.
Can spicy food help you lose weight?
C’mon, hot sauce can help you lose weight? It can, according to a meta-analysis of 90 different studies that looked at the role of capsaicin in weight management. The analysis found spicy foods reduce appetite and that they increase energy expenditure. So, yes! Spicy food can help with weight loss.
Are spicy foods dangerous? It depends on how spicy. You’ve heard of pepper spray, right?
Not too long ago, I saw a show on YouTube called Hot Ones. The simplicity of the show is what makes it beautiful — it’s just a host interviewing celebrities while eating super spicy hot sauces. Some of the hot sauces are more than 100 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. I guess I was a victim of ‘toxic masculinity’ because my testosterone levels made me try one of the hottest sauces on the show. It was one of those sauces that comes with a warning label. On the show, they dabbed a wing in one drop of the sauce. I foolishly poured a small amount on an organic tortilla chip (it was more than a dab).
The first bite was cool. I felt some heat with the second bite. My tongue died with the third bite. It felt like I was a vampire who just took a bite out of the devil. It felt like I was gargling with lava. After 10 seconds of tongue melting pain, I truly think I passed out and started hallucinating. After guzzling a gallon of milk, eating a loaf of bread, and going to my prayer closet, I decided to look up the dangers of ridiculously spicy foods.
A case of esophageal perforation after eating ghost peppers
The hot sauce I ate was ghost pepper based. When I started my search for dangers of super spicy foods, the first article I came across was from The Journal of Emergency Medicine. It was about a guy who ate ghost peppers as part of a contest. He started vomiting violently (I’ve been there). He eventually vomited so hard that he ruptured his esophagus.
Granted, the rupture was likely due to the vomiting, not from direct effects of the spicy peppers. But, the crazy hot peppers definitely triggered the vomiting.
Can spicy foods cause stomach pain?
Okay, Doc, you said spicy foods don’t cause ulcers, but I swear I have belly pain every time I eat spicy foods. What’s up with that?
Although spicy foods don’t cause ulcers, they can trigger abdominal pain in some people. One study specifically highlighted that frequent consumption of spicy foods can trigger upper gastrointestinal symptoms in some people with dyspepsia (or, indigestion). For people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), spicy foods can also trigger symptoms.
Another study showed that “those consuming spicy foods greater than or equal to 10 times per week were 92 percent more likely to have IBS compared with those who never consumed spicy foods.” When the researchers tried to analyze this finding based on gender, they found that spicy foods were not associated with irritable bowel symptoms in men.
In people with inflammatory bowel disease (or, IBD — Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), spicy foods can also trigger some symptoms.
Dr. Ed, what’s the bottom line?
This article was originally published on The Doc’s Kitchen.
Even when you've done your best to fight off the winter blues and
, it's inevitable everyone will get at least a mild sniffle at some point during cold and flu season. And even though being stuck at home with a fever
warm up our bodies -- which may sound nice when the temperature outside is below zero -- it's not exactly as enjoyable as warming up in the sun on a gorgeous beach somewhere. With
in February, it's time to stock up on food and drinks that'll get you back to tip-top shape in no time.
When we're sick, the body needs more calories to function normally. The body must work harder than normal when we are sick in order to fight infection, especially with fevers when it's battling higher body temperatures, too. To do this effectively, it needs to maintain higher energy levels, which can be tough when it's already working so hard. This is why properly fueling a sick body is an essential part of getting better.
It's important to stick to regular eating schedules when sick because consuming fewer calories than normal can restrict the body's ability to heal. In fact, studies suggest reducing calorie intake when sick not only increases susceptibility to the flu, but also worsens symptoms and lengthens the duration of illness.
While a nasty cold or bad case of the flu might ruin your appetite, it's important to stay well nourished and hydrated. Eating smaller portions of food more frequently, and listening to your body to determine when you're actually hungry, makes it easier to steadily fuel ourselves through the recovery process. The best foods to eat will keep us hydrated and give our bodies extra energy and nutrients to stay strong without aggravating upset tummies or clogged-up respiratory systems.
Your action plan
The best way to kick a cold is to drink plenty of fluids and eat immunity-boosting foods. Here are some of the best items out there:
It's not just an old wives' tale -- chicken noodle soup can actually help soothe a cold: The chicken contains an amino acid called cysteine, which helps thin mucus in the lungs, and the hot broth helps to keep nasal passages moist, prevent dehydration, and fight inflammation in the throat. Plus, the other ingredients may help the body kick a cold by stopping congestion and inflammation in their tracks.
Warm liquids can soothe a sore throat and alleviate congestion, so drinks like freshly-brewed green tea -- which is rich in infection-fighting antioxidants and supports the immune system -- or hot water with lemon are ideal for staying hydrated while helping out that stuffy nose.
It's a myth that vitamin C can cure the common cold, and there isn't actually much scientific evidence behind the theory that it'll reduce the length or severity of colds, either. However, while citrus fruits might not be a cure-all, the soft white layer of skin found on oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and limes does contain flavonoids, which can help boost the immune system and are great for speeding recovery.
Staying properly hydrated while sick with a chest cold can keep mucus thin and help lessen congestion. While it's generally better to eat fruit rather than drink it, popsicles are great as a different way to hydrate and are especially easy on the throat. Bonus points if they're 100 percent fruit juice, or made from whole fruit!
Spicy foods can make our noses run and our eyes water, but they're also effective natural decongestants. Eating chili peppers, wasabi, or horseradish can help relieve the symptoms of congestion.
When it comes to stomach issues, which can accompany the flu, eating bland foods that are easy to digest and staying hydrated are the best defenses for a quick recovery. Here are a few of your best bets:
Crackers and toast
Plain, unsalted, or lightly-salted crackers and toast are simple, bland foods that are easy on the stomach. These high-starch foods won't aggravate the stomach and can help stabilize digestion, which is especially helpful after vomiting.
Bananas are rich in potassium, which is often depleted during bouts of sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea. They're easier to digest (A+ for bland foods), may help lower body temperature, and can help replenish lost electrolytes.
Research has shown that ginger is incredibly effective at preventing and soothing nausea and other gastric ailments, such as constipation, bloating, and vomiting. Drinking ginger tea or flat ginger ale, to avoid disrupting the stomach with carbonation, can help keep you hydrated while also soothing tummy troubles.
Foods to avoid
Since the body's more vulnerable during illness, it's best to avoid any foods that put the body under excess stress. Certain foods can make the unpleasant experience of being sick even worse. Here are a few to steer clear of:
Spicy and acidic foods
While spicy foods might be good for nasal congestion, they can also be rough on the stomach and cause more pain and discomfort. Steer clear of them if you're experiencing stomach upset.
Anything high in sugar and fat
High sugar intake can suppress the immune system and cause inflammation. Foods high in fat, on the other hand, can be more difficult to digest compared to carbs and protein, and can trigger stomach pains as a result.
The jury's still out on this one, but many people believe that consuming dairy can promote mucus production, which could worsen congestion when sick. However, current research indicates that this may actually be due to a placebo effect. But regardless of whether or not milk changes how much mucus we actually produce, drinking it can create the feeling of thicker mucus, so if that bothers you, it can't hurt to avoid milk while sick.
Next time you're feeling a little under the weather, be sure to get plenty of rest and lots of fluids and consider incorporating some of these awesome foods into your diet to experience a quicker -- or at least more comfortable -- recovery.
What are your go-to foods when you're feeling under the weather? Share in the comments below or get in touch with us on Facebook.