Wellness Nutrition Eat Well The Dangers and Benefits of Eating Hot Peppers Read this before entering a hot pepper-eating contest. By Anthea Levi Anthea Levi Instagram Website Anthea Levi is a registered dietitian (RD) and freelance reporter with more than 6 years of experience writing for major health outlets including Health magazine, BuzzFeed, Eat This, Not That!, and Livestrong. health's editorial guidelines Updated on November 2, 2022 Medically reviewed by Allison Herries, RDN Medically reviewed by Allison Herries, RDN Allison Herries, RDN, is a registered dietitian for a telehealth company. In her role, she provides nutrition education and counseling to help her clients set and reach their personal health goals. learn more Share Tweet Pin Email It's standard for spicy food to cause your upper lip to sweat, your eyes to tear up, and your mouth to feel on fire. But can eating hot peppers negatively impact your health? The question is worth considering—what makes chilies so darn fiery, and what are the dangers of eating them? Here, Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RDN, nutritionist and author of Eat Clean, Stay Lean, answers all those burning questions. Before you eat a heap of habaneros, here's what you need to know about the dangers (and possible benefits). What Makes Peppers So Hot The main compound that gives chilies their signature kick is a phytonutrient called capsaicin. "Capsaicin attaches to the receptors on the taste buds that detect temperature and sends signals of spicy heat to the brain," explained Dr. Bazilian. The amount of heat a pepper packs has to do with the level of capsaicin it contains. To figure out how spicy a scorching pepper is, adventurous eaters can refer to the Scoville scale. The measurement tool ranks varieties of peppers from most to least spicy based on their capsaicin concentration. The Scoville scale ranges from standard bell peppers with no capsaicin to ghost peppers and the Trinidad scorpion—the spiciest chilies. Can You Get a Headache From Eating Spicy Food? Dangers of Eating Hot Peppers "It's a bit of a myth that hot peppers can actually create physical damage to the esophagus or tongue," explained Dr. Bazilian. But that doesn't mean no dangers are associated with eating fiery foods. Why? Dr. Bazilian clarified that when we eat very hot peppers, the brain receives pain signals that can result in an upset stomach, nausea, or vomiting. And while hot peppers themselves may not cause damage to the esophagus, those symptoms, like vomiting, can. "If vomiting occurs, the acid that comes up from the stomach can irritate the esophagus," noted Dr. Bazilian. Other potential reactions to super-spicy peppers include: DiarrheaPain and redness on the skinPain and redness in eyes (if squirted into the eye)Respiratory distress (when inhaled)Breathing difficulties You should drink milk to alleviate the symptoms of eating hot peppers. But don't drink water, which may worsen the symptoms of eating hot peppers. That's because water can spread capsaicin around the mouth, potentially intensifying the pain. If the hot pepper comes into contact with your skin or eyes, you can rinse with water or apply a cool compress. When eating hot peppers, choose varieties that aren't too high on the Scoville scale and consume them in tasty meals rather than by themselves. "This way, the impact on the tongue, esophagus, and stomach is less, too," said Dr. Bazilian. 8 Foods and Drinks That Irritate Your Bladder Health Benefits of Hot Peppers Hot peppers can also deliver health benefits. People often use capsaicin to treat arthritis and other pain-related conditions. Others also use the phytonutrient as an ingredient in topical medications. In those cases, capsaicin works by stimulating pain fibers. One specific medication, called Zostrix HP (capsaicin), treats diabetic neuropathy, which refers to nerve pain associated with diabetes. There are also pain patches containing capsaicin that treat diabetic neuropathy. The effectiveness of those patches compares to other oral medications (like gabapentin and duloxetine) that also treat the condition. In addition to diabetic neuropathy, capsaicin may also effectively other signs and symptoms of several illness, such as: Back painHeadachesRunny noseOsteoarthritisPain from traumaNausea and vomiting after surgeryPain after surgery A Quick Review Some people prefer to eat on the spicy side. But too much heat can result in unpleasant side effects, like nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or diarrhea. Capsaicin is the culprit of the spicy heat in hot peppers. And while capsaicin can irritate our digestive system and cause those unpleasant side effects, it is also a beneficial ingredient in medications that treat pain-related conditions. "When we consume things that aren't appetizing to us and in quantities that are unreasonable, the possibility for adverse outcomes and discomfort is very real," noted Dr. Bazilian. So, consider yourself warned if you're planning on entering a hot pepper-eating contest. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. National Institute of Standards and Technology. How do you measure the 'heat' of a pepper? National Library of Medicine. Gastroesophageal reflux disease. National Capital Poison Center. Capsaicin: When the "chili" is too hot. American Chemical Society. Hot peppers: Muy caliente! National Capital Poison Center. Capsaicin: When the "chili" is too hot. National Library of Medicine. Capsicum. van Nooten, F., Treur, M., Pantiri, K., Stoker, M. and Charokopou, M., 2017. Capsaicin 8% Patch Versus Oral Neuropathic Pain Medications for the Treatment of Painful Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: A Systematic Literature Review and Network Meta-analysis. Clinical Therapeutics, 39(4), pp.787-803.e18. National Library of Medicine. Capsicum.