Why Hot Peppers Burn—And How To Fight It!
(Note that pepper-based sauces like sriracha and hot sauce are also disallowed on the 123Diet, mostly on account of preservatives and sugar in the former and excess sodium in the latter.)
Yet if you've ever bitten into a hot pepper or a food heavily flavored with pepper flakes, you're probably familiar with the unpleasant burning sensation that arises when you take a bite. So what gives?
It turns out that capsaicin happens to have the ability to bind to the pain and heat receptors in your mouth, despite the fact that peppers do not necessarily have a hot temperature and cannot literally burn you.This is similar to the way in which the gymnema sylvestre in our signature drops blocks sugar's sweet taste by binding to sugar-sensitive receptors in that sugar's place.
However, while you're unlikely to experience any lasting harm from your average jalapeno, things change in the case of extremely hot peppers, like the notorious ghost variety.
If you start playing with "fire," so to speak, your mouth and throat may blister as your body attempts to stop the damage from spreading. This may even cause you to temporarily lose your taste buds, though they'll likely grow back after about two weeks.
In more extreme cases, one might experience anaphylactic shock or even the closing of their airways after eating an overly hot pepper. One man even needed emergency surgery after a ghost pepper triggered him to vomit so intensely that he ruptured his esophagus!
You should also beware that your mouth isn't the only place capsacain can burn you. While capsaicin shouldn't affect normal skin unless you have an allergy or sensitivity, you definitely want to thoroughly wash your hands of any pepper residue before touching certain vulnerable areas: for example, your eyes, your private parts, your nasal cavity, or any open wounds.On the bright side, capsaicin may trick your body into releasing some of its natural painkillers, otherwise known as endorphins, which can boost your mood and energy levels and even suppress your appetite. Plus, if you consume capsaicin regularly enough, your body will get eventually get desensitized to it as your receptors become accustomed to the compound.These properties explain why topical capsaicin can, paradoxically, be a pain killer, especially in the case of neuropathic pain and arthritis. This seems to be due to capsaicin's ability to reduce inflammation and interfere with the transmission of pain signals, though it is not yet known exactly how this occurs.
Of course, in an acute moment of "feeling the burn," you probably aren't very concerned with capsaicin's health benefits or how you'll feel the next time you eat a hot pepper; you just want it out of your mouth!Though your first impulse after eating something spicy may be to drink a glass of water, that's actually one of your worst bets. After all, you know what they say about oil and water—so since capsaicin is an oil, water will only spread that oil around your mouth and spread the burn with it.This also goes for water variants like sparkiling water or beverages that are mostly water, like beer, soda, and coffee. Speaking of coffee, any hot foods may also intensify your burn by getting your receptors more "excited!"
A better option is actually to head to your fridge's dairy shelf. Casein, a protein found in most dairy products, will bind to your mouth's pain and heat receptors in the capsaicin's place, while the fat present in most dairy will help any lingering capsaicin dissolve.
If you are currently on the 123Diet and haven't yet used your daily dairy allowance when you find yourself in pepper-flake frenzy, a spoon of milk, yogurt, or sour cream would be a good bet. If you're already off the diet, ice cream will have the bonus of fighting the "heat" sensations with cooling ones.You may also find temporary relief in a spoonful of sugar or honey, though these seem to work mostly by providing sensory distraction from the burn as opposed to actively combating it—so the pain is likely to come back as soon as you've finished your sweet treat.You can also try peanut butter or other nut betters, which contain both sugar and fat—though they also made our list of deceptively unhealthy foods! If you're in a pinch, you could even try straight olive oil or butter.Starchy foods can also "soak up" the capsaicin and stop the burn from spreading, putting a barrier between the oil and your mouth. While most starchy foods are forbidden on the 123Diet, perhaps a piece or two of melba toast would help do the trick? Acidic food may also help neutralize capsaicin, which is, oddly enough, alkaline. Good 123-safe options include oranges before 12 pm, tomato if you haven't recently eaten a green vegetable, and lemon, lime, or vinegar at any time at all!Another non-123Diet-approved option for fighting capsaicin burn is alcohol, which can dissolve the offending substance—but only if that alcohol is relatively high-proof and not very diluted. The good news, though, is that even a high-proof variety of something like vodka is unlikely to have very many calories.On the other hand, drinking enough of any sort of alcoholic beverage might improve your symptoms simply by dulling your senses and awareness, not so much taking away the burn as making you less bothered by it—but that's not an approach we would reccomend!
If you decide to choose none of the above and to simply wait it out, the sensation should fade by itself in 15-20 minutes.
While peppers and pepper flakes are thought to be safe during pregnancy, you should avoid them while breast-feeding since capsaicin may be able to pass into breast milk. You should also avoid overdoing it on the peppers if you'd rather not experience stomach pain, gas, or even the probably-as-bad-as-it-sounds burning diarrhea.If you're one who simply can't abide spicy tastes, you can still enjoy the health benefits of capsaicin by choosing so-called "sweet peppers," which contain some capsaicin but in amounts too low to produce a burning sensation. Same deal for ginger root!