The latest news about spicy food that has been fatal comes from the United States. A 14-year-old boy from Worcester, Massachusetts, died after eating a spicy snack, a type of potato chip, as a result of the Paqui One Chip Challenge, only for adults. The case went around the world due to the extreme consequence of eating an aperitif. And the truth is that spicy food can be fatal in certain doses.
The burning sensation in the mouth that occurs when we eat spicy foods “is perceived by nociceptors: pain-receiving nerve endings. Therefore, we cannot talk about spiciness as a flavor like sweet or salty, since it is not perceived through the taste buds,” Laura Bonet, nutritionist dietitian at the Alimmenta Nutrition Clinic, comments on RAC1.cat.
What exactly happens to our body when we eat spicy food?
When chewing food, molecules are released that chemically activate the nociceptors located on the tongue and produce the characteristic burning sensation. Some of these molecules capable of activating nociceptors are capsaicin (hot peppers), piperine (black pepper) and allicin (garlic and onion), adds the specialist.
When faced with the burning sensation, our body reacts by emitting endorphins and serotonin, which may explain why there are people who find pleasure in the sensation produced by spiciness. But this pleasure that can hook people can be very harmful. That's why there is even an international scale - the Scoville scale - to measure the degree of spiciness of some foods, such as peppers. “This scale takes into account capsaicin, the most studied of the substances that produce that burning sensation.” The number of Scoville Heat Units (SHU) indicates the amount of capsaicin present in foods.
According to published studies, explains Bonet, “we can affirm that the consumption of capsaicin in large quantities by adults and in small quantities by children can cause nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Furthermore, it is not recommended for people who have digestive problems, as it can aggravate the symptoms.”
In the case of the young man from Massachusetts, the spice caused his death, something that is obviously not common. “The estimated oral lethal dose of capsaicin in humans is 0.5 to 5 grams per kilogram of weight. For a 75 kilo adult, this dose would be equivalent to 37.5 grams to 375 grams of capsaicin. In this case, the cause of death is respiratory paralysis,” explains the specialist.
Although certain population groups should be careful with spicy food and high doses can have harmful consequences, it is also true that some studies have proven beneficial effects of spicy food. Among these benefits of spicy food in moderate quantities would be the improvement of digestion and the improvement in the risk of cardiovascular problems.
Research from Peking University published in the British Medical Journal has linked it to a longer life. In the sample of half a million people, it was found that those who consumed spicy foods 6 to 7 times a week reduced the risk of dying prematurely by 14%.
Scientists associated spicy food with a lower risk of dying from infectious diseases in women, and from cancer and respiratory or heart diseases in both sexes. However, the authors pointed out that the benefits of eating spicy food may also be associated with dietary habits, lifestyle and socioeconomic status.
Content originally published on Rac1.cat