Hot, or red, pepper comes from crushed hot peppers. The component that gives hot pepper its bite is capsaicin, an extract of the peppers. Studies at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center preliminarily suggest that capsaicin is beneficial to health and might help fight prostate cancer. But when eaten rather than supplemented, hot pepper can cause several irritations.
Before capsaicin can get to your system, it must get past your mouth, and it can cause a variety of problems there. It's caustic to mucous membranes and can literally burn your taste buds. To reduce burning in the mouth, the University of Michigan Health System recommends eating a banana. To avoid burning mucous membranes, wash hands with vinegar after touching hot peppers. If you can, wear gloves when dealing with capsaicin.
The heat of the capsaicin can cause reflux and heartburn when the pepper reaches your stomach and interacts with the acid there. This also can result in nausea. Capsaicin once had an undeserved reputation for causing ulcers, but research has shown that while it can aggravate ulcer pain, it does not cause ulcers to develop. As hot pepper passes through and out of your system, it can prompt painful, burning diarrhea. The more you eat, the more likely this is to occur.
In high enough quantities, hot pepper can trigger an attack in asthma sufferers by causing air passages to spasm. This can be potentially dangerous if you don't have an inhaler or medication nearby. You should stay away from hot pepper if you're prone to bronchial problems, but if you're surprised and inadvertently eat something containing hot pepper, antihistamines sometimes can help.
Not all problems with hot pepper stem from eating it. If you use it in cooking and get any in your eyes, the result can be extremely painful and your eyes might tear profusely. Avoid rubbing them when you're working with capsaicin products. Using gloves can be useful because if hot pepper remains on your skin, an uncomfortable stinging sunburn-like reaction can occur.
If you consume a high dose of hot pepper and it causes discomfort, eat something absorbent, such as bread. Your first instinct will be to gulp water, but this will only spread the capsaicin throughout your mouth and hasten its way to your stomach. Once you've eaten it, there's little else you can do to mitigate the side effects until it passes your system. If you get it on your skin, remove it with water or vinegar. Numbing ointments, such as those purchased over the counter for toothaches, can help relieve mouth discomfort.
- Chile-Peppers.com: Health Risks of Eating Chili Peppers -- Cancer, Burns and Reflux
- The New York Times; Eating Spicy Foods – What Are the Effects?
- Medill Reports Chicago: Peppers Are Hot – As a Health and Diet Aid
- U.S. Pharmacist: Capsaicin – Risks and Benefits
- Gourmet Sleuth: Red Pepper Flakes
- University of Michigan Health System: Capsaicin