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Chili Peppers and the Digestive Health

Updated: Jan 2

Hot chili pepper is a favorite food of most spicy food lovers. It has the ability to upgrade and spice up the taste of any meal. It can be used fresh, or dried and ground into a powder (the least recommended option because during the drying and the grinding phase, many important qualities of the fresh pepper are lost).


The benefits of chili peppers

Chili pepper is rich in antioxidants and unique components that can soothe many digestive problems, such as upset stomach, gas, diarrhea, and cramps. Due to its ability to balance the secretions of the digestive juices and to increase intestine motility, it improves the process of digestion and decomposition of food (this is the reason why some people may experience diarrhea after they consume chilis).


The chilis are rich in vitamins A and C which strengthen the immune system and protect against infections and diseases.

The typical red color of chili pepper is an indication that it is rich in beta-carotene, a very important antioxidant for maintaining the health of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems.


Additional health benefits of chili peppers: Support digestive health, relieve migraine, help fight fungal and bacterial infections, help fight colds and flu, relieve joint pain, anti-inflammatory, support cardiovascular health, improve cognitive functions, encourage the formation of red blood cells, improve eye health, maintain hair and skin health (by encouraging collagen formation).

Capsaicin

The antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities of chilis can be attributed to their main component - capsaicin, the substance which is responsible for their spiciness and aroma.

Capsaicin has many great health benefits, such as supporting the stomach’s and the intestine’s health, accelerating metabolism, and promoting weight loss. The amazing thing is, that it actually acts as an anti-irritant inside our digestion system.

The effect of chilis on digestive health

Many avoid eating chili peppers, fearing that they may irritate the digestive system, and cause heartburn or ulcers. But, contrary to what is commonly thought, chili pepper may actually have a positive effect on digestive health, reduce the irritation of the intestinal lining and even help treat stomach ulcers and destroy Helicobacter pylori bacteria!

Although chilis may cause a burning sensation or even discomfort in the digestive system, they can not cause damage to the stomach lining or the intestine! In fact, when our receptors which are located in the digestive system (TRPV1) are exposed to capsaicin over time, they eventually become resistant to it. This could explain why people who consume chilis on a regular basis are no longer affected by their spiciness, they just don't feel it to the same extent as people who are not used to spicy food.

Nevertheless, it is important to take into consideration that people who are dealing with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and intestinal infections or inflammations (like Crohn’s and Ulcerative colitis) may be more susceptible to the spiciness of the peppers and should be very careful, as it may aggravate their symptoms.

Can chili peppers help treat Crohn's or Ulcerative colitis?

There is no unequivocal answer to that question. Many Crohn's and Ulcerative colitis patients avoid eating spicy foods, fearing that they might worsen the inflammation. As of today, there are no studies that show that the consumption of spicy chilies can worsen the condition of patients with these diseases. On the other hand, there are many studies that prove the potential of capsaicin in improving the health of the digestive system and in reducing inflammation.

Studies

A review from June 2016 describes the many ways that capsaicin, the active ingredient of chilies, is used to provide relief in cases of gastrointestinal discomfort caused by stomach or gut inflammation.

The explanation given by the researchers for one of these mechanisms is that some people have a low production of salivary and pancreatic enzymes, which makes it difficult for them to digest and break down food. Capsaicin stimulates the production of these enzymes and increases mucus secretion along the digestive tract, which acts as a protective layer for the wall of the stomach and the intestine.

Capsaicin may help heal stomach ulcers. The review of the studies revealed that capsaicin slows the secretion of stomach acid and promotes blood flow and mucus production inside the stomach lining, which is useful in preventing and healing ulcers and treating reflux.

In addition to stimulating the digestive system to secrete digestive enzymes, capsaicin can also activate the immune response inside the intestine to help the body fight intestinal inflammation or bacterial imbalance. This suggests that capsaicin has the potential to slow down the growth of pathogenic organisms (such as bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc.) and may help relieve symptoms caused by the overgrowth of those organisms.

A study published in 2017 found that when capsaicin reaches the digestive system, it activates receptors that suppress an inflammatory response in the stomach, the esophagus, and the pancreas.

Another interesting study that was published in July 2014 and looked at 16 people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, showed that consuming chili powder for 6 weeks improved symptoms of burning in the gut and the rectum.

In conclusion, most researchers agree that more studies are needed in order to be able to say unequivocally that capsaicin can treat indigestion, inflammation, diarrhea, and stomach ulcers.

My personal opinion

I personally strongly support the consumption of chilies as part of a balanced and healthy diet, except for the following situations:

- During an acute inflammatory attack of Crohn's, Ulcerative colitis, or diverticulitis.

- During an acute gastric ulcer.

- If there is a sensitivity or intolerance to spicy foods.

- During rectal bleeding or burning.

If you do not suffer from one of these conditions, you should occasionally consider spicing up your meals with some fresh chili pepper. The burning sensation in the mouth and watery eyes may be worth the amazing health benefits that this food has to offer!



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