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Can Too Much Spiciness in Food Be Deadly?

Who does not like a bit of spice in life? Certainly there will be some, but I think that they will remain in the minority. Not about the piquancy of today, but about the sharpness of the peppers, caused mainly by capsaicin. While the substance itself is considered to promote metabolic health, helping to maintain a slim figure and cardiovascular system in the right condition. This article breaks down what is in a chili pepper, if there is too much spiciness in food and if it can really be deadly or not. Read on.


What is capsaicin and what are its properties?

Capsaicin is an alkaloid isolated from red chillies in the 19th century (exactly in 1876) by an Englishman. It was he who gave this crystalline substance a name that functions to this day. From the botanical point of view, capsaicin is a secondary metabolite produced by paprika to deter insects and herbivorous animals. The unbelievable sharpness potential of this substance is ideally suited to the plant world. Men liked to imitate cool ideas of nature – Indians, for example, used dried chili peppers as a fighting blindness agent. Over 9,000 years ago it was used as a painkiller in oral diseases.

Previous reports clearly confirm that capsaicin affects the pain relief (analgesic effect), also stimulates thermogenesis and to a small extent supports the loss of adipose tissue *. It also irritates tissues. Evidence to support theses on its hypotensive effects (lowering blood pressure), anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects are not clear, but promising. Rodent studies document vasodilatation, improve blood flow, improve cholesterol-derived cholesterol atherosclerosis, reduce platelet adhesion (anticoagulant effect), and increase the expression of decoupling protein 2 (UCP2) to have a protective effect on hepatocytes in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NAFLD ) and towards endothelial cells in the presence of hyperglycemia.


Capsaicin can cool and warm up to hot-steel degree

Interestingly, a single, low dose of capsaicin may, contrary to common beliefs, slow the metabolic rate and lower body temperature. It is different when taking it regularly – then the receptor responsible for hypothermia is partially inactivated and the body temperature rises. Unfortunately, the downside of such a strategy is the difficult thermal regulation of the body and greater susceptibility to overheating (attention in hot weather and effort!)


Scoville heat unit scale (or SHU scale)

A bit old (literally because it has been in force for more than 100 years!) In 1912. Scale, introduced by Wilbur Scoville to allow the categorization of pepper varieties in terms of the sharpness resulting from the capsaicin content. Initially, due to the lack of availability of advanced laboratory methods known to us from today (like for example chromatography of various types), the sharpness of peppers was assessed … organoleptically (poor researchers!)!

An alcoholic extract was made, which was then diluted until the irritant taste was lost. The level of dilution corresponded to the degree of sharpness – for example, a dilution of 50,000 times determined the pepper sharpness at 50000 SHU (Scoville Heat Unit). These tests determined the level of sharpness of pure capsaicin at about 16,000,000. For comparison – gases used by the US police are characterized by a sharpness of 500,000 – 2,000,000 SHU, only one manufacturer provides a real killer with 5 300 000 SHU. The literature specifies as “giving faster results” (somehow it does not surprise me!).


Spiciness can hurt

You’ve probably heard about the competition in eating the hottest dishes. The case of an unfortunate man with Carolina Reaper, one of the hottest peppers in the world. SHU at the level of about 1.5-2.2 million, holding for the longest time the world’s hottest title. The 34-year-old was hospitalized with terrifying headaches, occurring cyclically. Aneurysms were suspected, however, it was ruled out.

Similarly there were no deviations in blood pressure or neurological deficits. Angiography, however, showed significant narrowing of the left carotid artery and intracerebral arteries. They were diagnosed with reversible cerebral vasoconstriction due to the intake of the aforementioned pepper. The patient stayed in the ICU for 5 weeks. This is true, the first case of such a situation caused by peppers. But coronary vasospasm has already been reported that myocardial infarction after ingestion of cayenne.


Not so dangerous again!

As you can see above, cases of threats to health and life are rather isolated. In 2017, a work was published in PLOS One, in which the impact of consumption of hot chili peppers on mortality for various reasons was evaluated. The analysis included observational data from the NHANES experiment. It covered over 16,000 adults, altogether 275,000 person-years.  It was observed that the consumption of peppers was associated with a 13% reduction in sudden death. In terms of risk of death due to disorders of the vascular system, the effect was similar, but not statistically significant.

To sum up – it’s worth turning on hot peppers for spiciness in food. But we can not get rid of common sense! Competing in the intake of the hottest food can not get anyone out of health.


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TWL Working Mom

Jennifer is the owner of TWL Working Moms. She is a full time teacher, a mom & step mom, and NBCT Facilitator. Jennifer lives in Washington State and is a born + raised New Yorker. In her spare time, she loves traveling, yoga, the beach, writing, listening to books and drinking coffee.

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