The cool science of hot peppers!

Image Source:


Chili peppers do much more than spice up food and burn people’s mouths. Scientists have discovered many uses for the chemical that gives these veggies their zing. Capsaicin (Kap-SAY-ih-sin), it’s the chemical that gives these peppers their spiciness. In small doses, capsaicin can relieve pain, help with weight loss and possibly affect microbes in the gut to keep people healthier. How cool is that?

When food sits out in warm weather, microbes on the food start to multiply. If people eat food with too many of these germs, they risk getting very sick. The cold temperature inside a refrigerator stops most microbes from growing. That’s why most people today rely on refrigerators to keep their food fresh. But long ago, those appliances weren’t available.  People would use chilies for their capsaicin to slow or stop microbial growth on food items.

The heat of a chili pepper is not actually a taste. That burning feeling comes from the body’s pain response system. Capsaicin inside the pepper activates a protein in people’s cells called TRPV1. This protein’s job is to sense heat. When it does, it alerts the brain. The brain then responds by sending a jolt of pain back to the affected part of the body.

The Carolina Reaper currently holds the title as the hottest chili pepper in the world. It is as much as 880 times as hot as a jalapeño — so hot that it can actually leave chemical burns on someone’s skin.

Carolina Reaper Pepper - Image Source: By Nytsuga BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

So as you gear up for some summertime picnics this summer…bring some of these chili peppers along, take a deep breath and bite into a chili pepper for some health related benefits!

Think About It Thursday: Can Spicy Food Really Give You Nightmares?

Image Source:

Recently, after experiencing some restless nights and some nightmarish dreams, I wondered…Did the spicy jalapenos and salsa I put on my food cause these intensely vivid dreams?

 Dr. Charles Bae, MD, a sleep medicine doctor at Sleep Disorders Center at the Cleveland Clinic explains that really “eating anything too close to bedtime can trigger more dreams, because the late night snacks increase the body’s metabolism and temperature. Heightened metabolism and temperature can lead to more brain activity, prompting more action during rapid eye movement sleep, or REM.”

Maybe the active ingredient in spicy foods, capsaicin, is to blame? Not only is the human tongue the strongest muscle in the human body relative to its size, but it is also home to the millions of microscopic receptors that make our sense of taste possible. Your tongue contains thousands of pain receptors, called VR1 receptors. When the receptors are activated by capsaicin, the sensation we experience is indelibly linked to the perception of temperature, to the feeling of eating something near the boiling point of water.  What ensues is a burning sensation, signaled by the brain, however no physical harm is done.

“It is … possible that spicy foods—or other foods such as dairy or greasy fast foods—at least occasionally induce nightmares or other bizarre dreams. It might be that some people are sensitive to the chemical composition of certain foods,” writes Tore Nielsen, director of the dream and nightmare laboratory at Sacré-Coeur Hospital in Montreal, Canada.

What do you think? Are spicy foods to blame for your intensely strange dreams?!