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Ugly Dangers of Eating Spicy Foods, According to Science

Adding some kick to your food can be really healthy. But here are some notable risks.

A little bit of peppery spice can be a healthy eater's best friend. Want to add some much-needed flavor to any nutritious but otherwise bland and tasteless foods? Simply add a dash of tabasco or sriracha, and—voila!—you've instantly made your meal more palatable without piling on the calories. (Just don't overdo it, as hot sauces contain plenty of sodium.)

But that's not the only benefit of adding some kick to your diet. Spicy foods can help with weight loss, heart disease, even depression. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, people who ate spicy foods six to seven days per week "showed a 14% relative risk reduction in total mortality." In other words, a diet with some capsaicin, the chemical in peppers that provides that burn you know and love, can even prolong your life. (For more health benefits of eating spicy foods, see here.)

However, spicy foods aren't for everyone. And if you're dousing your food in too much hot sauce—or you're eating entirely too many meals that are ultra-high in spice levels—you could be damaging your body as well. Read on for some of the uglier health dangers of eating spicy foods.

Plus, don't avoid these 8 Worst Fast-Food Burgers to Stay Away From Right Now.

They can have a laxative effect.

south carolina bbq ribs with spicy sauce

It's simply a fact that eating spicy foods is one of the most common culprits behind an upset stomach and diarrhea. According to one scientific study, capsaicin consumed in abundance can irritate the lining of your stomach after you eat it. The resulting symptoms of too much capsaicin, according to the folks at Healthline, include "nausea," "vomiting," "abdominal pain," and "burning diarrhea." So, if you're finding that you're overly sensitive to spicy foods, it'd be a good idea to cut them out.

They can cause acne and eczema.

Indian curry

"Spicy foods may cause people to break out," Rebecca Tung, MD, a Florida-based dermatologist, told Allure. "When spicy food creates inflammation in the gut—from an upset stomach, acid reflux, or other symptoms—sometimes this inflammation can also be seen on the skin with flushing, acne breakout, or even eczema. If a particular food might be the culprit, dermatologists may suggest a person keep a food diary to pinpoint the offender."

They can cause insomnia.

green chili stew

If you love a meal rich in spice, you may wish to confine it to lunch. "Spicy and acidic foods can kill sleep efforts because they cause heartburn," say the health experts over at WebMD. "Heartburn is especially problematic for people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux."

According to many leading health experts, eating spicy foods closer to your bedtime isn't advised because lying down can actually exacerbate the discomfort you feel.

They can affect your voice.

spicy curry with chili peppers

According to the health experts at The Mayo Clinic, eating too many spicy foods is one of the things that can irritate your throat. If you're someone who suffers from acid reflux—something commonly brought on by the consumption of spicy foods—it can lead to not only vomiting but also to soreness, swelling, and "a horse, muffled voice."

They can lead to blisters and rashes.

pizza chili flakes

According to Barry Green, Ph.D., of the John B. Pierce Laboratory in New Haven, Conn, simply touching some spicy foods can potentially have health risks. "Spicy foods excite the receptors in the skin that normally respond to heat," he explained to Scientific American. "Those receptors are pain fibers, technically known as polymodal nociceptors. They respond to temperature extremes and to intense mechanical stimulation, such as pinching and cutting; they also respond to certain chemical influences. The central nervous system can be confused or fooled when these pain fibers are stimulated by a chemical, like that in chili peppers, which triggers an ambiguous neural response."

For more ways to handle food safely, don't miss this collection of Hidden Health Dangers You Can't Ignore.

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more about William