Lovers of spicy foods seem to enjoy and even seek out the painful tingling and burning sensation that comes with biting into a dish flavored with hot sauces, spices, or peppers.
A runny nose, watery eyes, and a burn that no amount of water can help quench are all par for the course when it comes to spicy foods, and researchers now understand why our bodies react to spice in this way.
A recent Time Magazine feature delved into why spicy foods “burn so good,” and the health benefits that come from eating them.
As soon as your tongue and mouth sense heat from a spicy dish, your nose and throat will start producing mucus in an attempt to help wash away the invasive sensation producing component.
Even your stomach and the intestinal tract will generate more mucus, all in the hopes of “washing away” the problem, in this case, the spice.
“When your mouth or throat encounters any foreign object that’s noxious, the thinking is that liquid helps to move that out,” Dr. Brett Corner, an ear, nose, and throat specialist from the University of Kentucky, told Time.
In some cases, the increase in mucus and fluid will cause people to have diarrhea or stomach cramps.
You can’t discuss spicy foods without talking about capsaicin. Capsaicin is a plant compound, and the reason why eating spicy foods can be so painful. Capsaicin targets a specific pain receptor which can cause a burning sensation, reddening of the skin and a rise in body temperature.
Despite the initial pain inducing sensation, capsaicin can also work as a kind of anesthetic as the pain receptors become desensitized following capsaicin exposure.
One 2015 study found that capsaicin helps buffer against visceral fat build up which is a type of fat that accumulates in the gut.
There is indeed a great deal of evidence that shows that adding a little capsaicin to your diet could be beneficial. For some people though, the exhilarating experience of eating painful spicy foods is just a thrilling adrenaline rush.