Eating spicy food is addictive – any chilli lover will tell you that! Whilst it may not be a true addiction in terms of your body being dependent on chilli to function, there is a very good reason why chilli lovers keep going back for more (and more and more and more…)!
The part of the chilli that makes it “hot” is a compound called capsaicin. Capsaicin is in its highest concentration in the membrane of the chilli (the internal part that connects the seeds to the pod). It reacts with a protein on the nerve cells on your tongue and sends a message to the brain that your mouth is being burned (even though there is no real heat there). These proteins and subsequent burning sensations also occur on other parts of the body (including the eyes) so it’s a sensible idea to wear gloves when handling chillies!
When your brain detects the burning sensations of capsaicin, it triggers a defensive response– you may start to sweat, your eyes may water, and your skin may flush in an effort to cool down! Your brain also releases the wonderful chemicals called endorphins which the body’s natural painkillers. They act by blocking the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals (although if you’re eating a raw super-hot chilli, I am doubtful you will notice this at the time)! The brain also releases dopamine which is the neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy and euphoric.
With chemical reactions like that in the body, it’s no wonder chilli triggers such a “high” after eating it and it’s easy to see why you can get hooked on chilli so easily. Who wouldn’t want to feel euphoric all the time (well, once the burning mouth settles…)?
The message is simple: Want to feel good? Eat chillies! It’s definitely the feel-good pick-me-up we opt for here at The Chilli Project
Spice it up chilli-lovers,
PS- If you’d like to read a more technical and scientific account of the effect of capsaicin in the body, read “This is your brain on capsaicin” on the Helix website.