Ever eaten spicy food and experienced some pretty unusual sensations in your body afterward? You wouldn’t be the only one – spicy food is more beneficial to your body than you might think, but it can take some getting used to. The direct health benefits we can get from consuming spicy foods is proof that oftentimes, a healthy diet is the most effective way of warding off the doctor for good.
Many people are wary of spicy foods because, when eaten in excess, they can cause some pretty nasty side effects like heartburn and indigestion. But there’s no need to overdo yourself. You can still include plenty of spices in your diet without increasing the heat to a level that’s overwhelming. And you’ll still see plenty of benefits from doing so.
If you’re curious to know what happens to your body when you eat spicy food, we’re about to reveal all…
What Happens To Your Body When You Eat Spicy Food
1. Improved respiration
It might seem a little hard to believe, but scientific evidence points to an unusual remedy for people with respiratory diseases like asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and sinusitis: hot peppers.
It’s thought that hot peppers such as cayenne pepper can help you to breathe better because of the capsaicin they contain, which helps stimulate secretions in the lungs, and protects the mucus membranes in the upper and lower respiratory tract.
You might have heard of the old natural remedy for a blocked nose: eating a cayenne pepper. This is because these peppers open up the nasal passages by drying up the pesky mucus lurking in there, making it easier to breathe.
2. Boost in mood
Who’d have thought eating spicy food could help you to feel happier? Chili peppers are a great source of magnesium, which helps balance our mood, boosting the levels of “happy” hormones endorphins and serotonin we produce.
Another reason why we feel so uplifted after eating a spicy meal is because none of our taste buds are associated with the capsaicin we find in chillies and other hot spices. This causes our brain to think it’s been burned, and our body to think it’s in pain – which stimulates the production of endorphins.
Dopamine is also released, which is a hormone often related to the pleasure sensation.
3. A better night’s sleep
There’s a fair bit of debate about whether spicy food can actually help or hinder your sleep, but recent studies have found that providing you’re not eating something hot right before bed, you can definitely benefit from a better night’s rest. Not only can spicy food help you sleep better, but it can actually help you to feel more alert the next day.
Research in Australia found that a group of volunteers had a far better quality sleep when they ate food containing chillies than when they didn’t. It’s thought that capsaicin affects the sensors in the brain that are responsible for our sleep cycles.
4. Relieves cold and flu symptoms
We already know that cayenne pepper can help to get rid of a blocked nose, but it goes further than that. Spicy food can help to relieve the general symptoms of cold and flu, loosening phlegm in your throat and making it easier to breathe, as well as providing short-term anti-inflammatory effects.
Eating spicy food causes the brain to produce more hormones to fight against pain, and prevent stress signals from being sent around the body. This can help to reduce discomfort and pain that you might associate with a cold or flu.
5. Reduces arthritis pain
Making small changes to your diet is said to help with arthritis, which causes inflammation and pain in the joints. While the solution here is not necessarily to jump to your typical hot spices, finding the ones that provide the biggest anti-inflammatory properties can be a real help to people with the condition.
Spices like turmeric, ginger, cayenne, and cinnamon can all help with arthritis when included regularly in meals. The capsaicin in chili peppers in particular contains anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce swelling and soothe pain, helping arthritis sufferers to maintain joint movement and muscle strength.
6. Improves digestion
Yes, here’s the disclaimer: eating spicy foods can cause indigestion and heartburn, none of which are particularly good for your health. But as with everything, it’s all about moderation.
Studies have found that eating a small serving of certain spices, such as those derived from pepper or chili plants, have many digestive benefits. Because spices are capable of reducing inflammation, it can relieve symptoms of discomfort in the digestive tract, and inhibit a certain bacteria that causes stomach ulcers.
It also has a pain-numbing effect, showing promise in treating IBS and other digestive disorders.
7. Anti-cancerous properties
Amazingly, a number of studies have shown that not only can eating a spice-rich diet prevent cancer from forming, it can also treat certain cancers and assist in recovery. Turmeric, cumin, black pepper, and chili pepper have proven to prevent the spread and migration of tumours in the body, and increase the effectiveness of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
This is thought to be because the antioxidant properties of these spices can prevent cell damage caused by free radicals and improve immune response.
8. Improve circulation
Poor circulation is a surprisingly common problem, but luckily, it can be easily managed by eating foods that optimise blood flow. The capsaicin in cayenne pepper helps lower blood pressure, which stimulates blood flow around the body.
9. Promotes good heart health
As well as improving blood flow, foods containing spicy peppers may also prevent plaque build-up in the arteries, promoting good heart health and reducing the risk of a heart attack. Hot peppers are also thought to improve the body's ability to dissolve blood clots.
Because peppers contain capsaicin, which fights inflammation, they can lower the risk of inflammatory heart problems such as heart disease. Research has found that cultures that eat a diet rich in spicy foods have a decreased rate of heart attacks and stroke.
10. Assists weight loss
Weight loss is something that can only be achieved by combining the right diet with an active lifestyle, but certain spicy foods can assist in the process quite significantly. The capsaicin in hot peppers increases the body’s temperature, which in turn increases your heart rate.
A faster heart rate leads to a higher metabolism, which means your body can burn calories at a faster rate than normal. Including spices in your diet should help to quicken your metabolism over time, assisting in your weight loss goals.
11. Improves libido
You might not think that eating spicy foods might also help you to, well, spice up your love life, but studies suggest this might just be the case. A diet rich in spicy food has been proven to increase levels of the testosterone hormone, which improves libido when there’s more of it.
There’s still more research on the horizon on the bedroom benefits of spicy food, but one recent study found that people who consume spicy foods frequently have higher levels of testosterone, to begin with.
12. Prevents dehydration
We’ve all eaten a particularly spicy curry and had to gulp down gallons of water alongside it just to get through the experience. This is fairly normal – it’s all down to capsaicin again, making your brain think that your body’s burning, which triggers the thirst cues in the brain.
Eating spicy foods will help you to naturally reach for a glass of water frequently, and drinking more water is never a bad thing. Aside from preventing dehydration, water has a pretty important role: it carries nutrients to your cells, flushes bacteria from your bladder, and can assist in healthy digestion by preventing constipation.
It’s clear to see that adding any sorts of spices to your dishes, whether dried or fresh, can really make a difference when it comes to the incredible health benefits they offer. If you’ve not yet experimented with spicier foods, don’t be put off: there are different levels of spice, and something to suit everyone.
Want to include more spicy food in your diet, but worried it might be a bit too much too soon?
The key to success is not to crank up the heat from zero to one hundred all at once. Start from the bottom, and go for the spice options that aren’t too overwhelming. Avoid products that say “extra hot” or have a three-chillies rating for now. If you’re cooking with real chillies, by the way, go for panca chilies – they have a subtler spice and more of a sweet, smoky flavour.
Everyone can benefit from a bit of extra spice in their diets, and it doesn’t always mean opting for a hot curry option every evening. You can add spices like ginger and nutmeg into your morning porridge, or season your stews, oven bakes, and risottos with a dash of cardamom, peppercorn, or chipotle. There really is no limit to your options, so what are you waiting for? It’s time to do some experimenting with spices of your own – and your body will love you for it.