If you’ve ever accidentally taken a big bite of a dish laden with hot peppers and suffered the consequences, you might wonder why people eat them at all. But many of us seem attracted to the burn that comes with eating spicy foods. In fact, some people are downright addicted to it.
Though hot peppers do provide flavor, the burn that people find so captivating is simply a sensation. We describe it as burning because chemicals in the pepper, called capsaicinoids, activate heat receptors. While this doesn’t actually burn tissues, it does feel that way.
Is there pleasure in pain?
You have heat receptors in your skin, mouth, and tongue. When heat receptors are activated by exposure to something hot, heat sensitive nerves carry the message directly to your brain. The brain translates the message into the sensation of hot, but also that of pain.
The pain sensation acts as a protective mechanism. Sensing pain, the brain causes you to reflexively withdraw or drink something cold to avoid injury. The more intense the heat, the stronger the reaction.
Pain is often associated with tissue damage, so it shouldn’t be surprising that activation of pain/heat receptors stimulates healing mechanisms in the body. The healing induced by pain is linked to production of endorphins in the body. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. They also stimulate natural killer cells of the immune system to remove damaged tissues and stem cells for restoring tissues back to normal.
Beyond all these benefits, endorphins are also promote a positive sense of wellbeing… so maybe there is pleasure in pain.
Benefits Without Consequences
Capsaicinoids intensely stimulate heat/pain receptors, but without causing anything more than mild tissue irritation — it’s uniquely all the gain that comes with the pain, without actually inflicting harm. The more intense the sensation of heat, the more intense the endorphin response.
People who seem to be able to tolerate any level of heat from spicy food have built up tolerance. Tolerance to hot peppers probably develops because the endorphin response becomes quicker and more intense. Endorphins are an important key for maintaining healthy immune system functions.
This means eating hot spicy foods is one addiction that’s actually great for your health!
Are you wracking your brain for recipes?
Here are some new ideas to add to your list:
• Kitchari Cleansing Ayurvedic Cleanse Dish via Belinda at Vital Plan
• Coconut Chicken Thai Curry via Tastes So Lovely
• Paleo Turkey Chili via The Clean Eating Couple
• Spicy Asian Zucchini Noodles via The Real Food RDs
• Brazilian Shrimp Stew via I Breathe, I’m Hungry
• *Bonus Drink Recipe*: Mexican Spicy Hot Chocolate via Champagne Tastes
To learn more about chilies visit: http://www.chilepepperinstitute.org/