EATING SPICY FOOD: WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS?

 

THOUGH much is suspected, relatively little is known about the health effects of peppery foods. In general, hot, spicy foods are stimulants. They stimulate the circulation and raise body temperature. If you are living in a hot climate, the increase in body temperature can make you feel cooler by diminishing the difference between you and the surrounding air and by inducing sweating, which cools the body when the perspiration evaporates.



Peppery foods are also believed to stimulate the appetite by setting off the flow of saliva and gastric juices, a nutritionally important effect for people in tropical areas where the oppressive heat acts as an appetite suppressant. And, anecdotally at least, they act as an overall stimulant, producing a titillating, awakening effect and increasing the acuity of the senses.

Peppers, especially the hot capsicum (chili) peppers, produce a burning sensation on the skin and mucous membranes, including the inside of the mouth. For the uninitiated, a relatively mild hot pepper can seem intolerably strong and truly hot peppers may even cause blistering of the lips and palate.

In Hong Kong, I was served a spicy shrimp dish that was so hot it numbed my unconditioned taste buds for three days and brought my gastronomic tour of that city to an abrupt halt. But people who eat hot foods all the time apparently become conditioned to their oral effects and do not find them painful. In fact, foods traditionally eaten hot are regarded as bland without the proper dose of pepper, much as a person used to a lot of salt would find salt-free foods tasteless.

For non-oral tissues, however, the burning produced by capsaicin, the irritating chemical in chili peppers, can be very painful. When preparing peppers it is wise to wear rubber gloves or hold the pep pers in a paper towel or plastic wrap. Fingers that have handled hot peppers should be washed thoroughly and kept out of the eyes and other sensitive tissues, including those of the pelvic region. If you should get capsaicin on sensitive tissues, flush quickly with lots of water to reduce the irritation.

If you burn your mouth with an overdose of hot pepper, Howard Hillman, author of ''The Cook's Book'' (Avon, $8.95), recommends eating an absorbent food like bread or rice rather than drinking liquids, which will spread capsaicin to other parts of your mouth.

Given what they can do to your mouth, you'd expect hot peppers to have damaging effects on the rest of your digestive tract, if not elsewhere in the body. To be sure, patients with various gastrointestinal diseases, such as hiatal hernias, ulcers and bowel disorders, are commonly advised to avoid hot, spicy foods.

However, according to Dr. Arnold Levy, a gastroenterologist in Washington and vice president for education of the American Digestive Disease Society, ''Precious little data are available anywhere in any language on the effects of hot, spicy foods on the digestive tract.''

Dr. Levy said: ''Caffeine and alcohol are gastric irritants; citrus fruits are acidic and can irritate the lower esophagus and add to stomach acid; chocolate, mint, nicotine, alcohol and fatty foods can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle between the esophagus and stomach, and cause heartburn, but there just aren't any data on hot, spicy foods.''

He added that people with chronic heartburn are likely to have less severe symptoms if they stay away from spicy foods, but this alone won't diminish the episodes of heartburn. For ulcer patients, he said, avoiding acid-stimulating foods is important, but there is no evidence that eating spicy foods will slow the healing of ulcers.

Dr. Levy noted that some people experience gastrointestinal burning or intense stomach cramping when they eat spicy foods, but that different people are sensitive to different foods, a fact that they usually discover on their own and can then avoid the offending foods.

source:https://www.nytimes.com/1983/09/21/garden/eating-spicy-food-what-are-the-effects.html#:~:text=And%2C%20anecdotally%20at%20least%2C%20they,the%20inside%20of%20the%20mouth. 


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