How Spicy Foods Affect Your Body

A must-read for everyone who loves a bit – or a lot – of heat at every meal.

The hottest chillies in the world have names that are telling of their scathing taste; Dragon’s Breath, Trinidad Scorpion, Armageddon, and Komodo Dragon, among others. One of the hottest, the ‘Bhut Jolokia’ that is grown in parts of India, is used to make chilli grenades: a non-lethal weapon developed by Indian military scientists, akin to tear gas and used to control rowdy crowds.

Which brings us to the question – can chillies be that hot? Apparently, yes.

The substance that makes food taste hot is called capsaicin. Levels of capsaicin can be measured using the Scoville Scale. The higher the score, the fierier the taste. For example, Scoville readings of the humble capsicum, common red chili and a new breed of chili that outranks ‘Bhut Jolokia’ called the ‘California Reaper’ measure respectively at 0, 500 and 2.2 million!

Since Malaysians love sambal (and all things spicy), let’s find out more about how capsaicin affects our health.

The Expert: Dr Andy Easwaren Vasudevan, consultant internal medicine physician/gastroenterologist from Columbia Asia Hospital – Petaling Jaya.

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How does spiciness affect the body?

Young woman with chili pepper isolated on white

“Firstly, eating spicy foods can trick the brain into thinking that we are ‘overheating’. This can irritate the lining of our nose, leading to a runny nose and sweatiness. Spicy foods can also trigger indigestion and worsen irritable bowel syndrome if you already have irritable bowel syndrome, that is. Although it may not cause ulcers but it can lead to heartburn because spicy food leads to the relaxation of the lower oesophagus. When the lower oesophagus is relaxed, it is easy for acid to rise from the stomach and cause Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).”

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