Chili peppers add spice and flavor to many common dishes. Many people claim that chili peppers have numerous health benefits, such as assisting in weight loss and supporting pain management. However, chili peppers also have some potential health risks.
Chili Pepper Use in the United States
Each year, millions of pounds of capsaicin (chili pepper extract) are imported into the United States, primarily from India, Japan, Africa and Mexico. This chili pepper extract is commonly used in salsa, chili, curries, and hot sauces. Additionally, some pharmaceutical companies use chili pepper extract in topical pain reliever creams. Chili pepper extract is also the chief active ingredient in pepper spray, which is commonly used as a self-defense tool.
Chili Peppers and Cancer
Some test-tube and animal studies indicate that chili pepper consumption may be linked to stomach cancer. Researchers from Yale University School of Medicine and the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico conducted a study in Mexico City, where the average person consumes about one hot chili pepper a day. As compared to non-consumers, hot chili pepper consumers had an increased risk of stomach cancer. While this study shows that chili pepper consumption may be a significant risk factor for gastric cancer, further studies are still being conducted.
Conversely, other studies imply that chili pepper consumption is actually beneficial for certain types of cancers. Some studies have shown that consuming chili peppers leads to the death of cancer cells.
Chili Pepper Burns
The oil in many types of chili peppers can be painful to the skin. If preparing chilies for eating or decorating, make sure to wear gloves and avoid contact with your eyes.
The pain from a chili pepper burn — which feels much like a sunburn — can be relieved by washing the area thoroughly with soap and water. If the burning sensation persists, contact a health professional. Children, who tend to have more sensitive skin than adults, are particularly at risk for chili pepper burns.
Chili Peppers and Reflux
Any spicy food, especially foods containing chili peppers, may cause reflux, indigestion and/or heartburn. Limiting intake of chili peppers and spicy foods containing capsaicin may help reduce the symptoms of these painful conditions. If you experience extreme discomfort after eating chili peppers or a food that contains chili peppers, contact a health professional.
Eating chili peppers or consuming capsaicin (chili pepper extract) as a health supplement may cause intestinal discomfort. Some symptoms include:
- upset stomach
- painful bowel movements.
People who have had recent anal surgery, ulcers, or any other laceration should choose to stay away from chili pepper and capsaicin consumption.
Botulism is caused by the toxins released by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. While very rare, some cases of botulism have been caused by the consumption of home-jarred or canned chili peppers.
Symptoms include double vision, nausea, and paralysis. Typically, symptoms set in 12 to 36 hours after ingesting the contaminated food. Botulism may also be contracted through an open wound. Small children and infants are most at risk for contracting botulism.
While many of these risks rarely occur and others are more common, each of these risks should be taken into consideration when eating chili peppers. Experts continue to research the health risks of consuming chili peppers, especially concerning children.