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Pepper-Eating Health Warning. What's Too Hot?

Tim Boyer's picture
Ghost peppers can kill, say physicians.

While pepper-eating contests are part of the fun of a pepper fest, they can do more than just give you a really bad case of heartburn. Here’s how one man nearly died after eating a pepper with a score of more than 1,000,000 units on the Scoville scale.


According to a recent CBS News story, a 47-year-old man found himself near death’s door after a ghost pepper-eating contest that burned a 1-inch hole in his esophagus. Health authorities published the case of a man who presented at an ER with severe abdominal pain and violent retching and vomiting that culminated in a spontaneous esophageal perforation and a left-sided pneumothorax from a puree of ghost pepper (also known as “bhut jolokia” in its native India) that he had spread over his burger before eating.

Here’s a local news video of the incident:

Purported Health Benefits of Hot Peppers

For Weight Loss―Researchers believe that hot peppers may be used as a natural diet-based supplement due to its health-benefiting capsaicin. Capsaicin is the chemical component that gives many peppers their burn. You can find it by carefully splitting open a pepper of almost any type, looking for the white septa pith inside that divides it into ridged sections where the seeds are formed.

Capsaicin is hypothesized to work by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system, promoting the secretion of the catecholamine chemicals epinephrine and norepinephrine, which in turn increases the body’s metabolic rate and temperature and thus results in an increase in burning fat calories as heat―a process referred to as thermogenic biogenesis.

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For Cancer Prevention―According to an earlier report on CBS This Morning, capsaicin from Smokin’ Ed’s Pucker Butt peppers may have its greatest health benefit by preventing cancer―a concern of Mr. Ed Currie, who not only has a family history of relatives succumbing to cancer, but has had several tumors of his own removed in the past. In fact, there is some medical support for this as researchers who are studying capsaicin’s anti-cancer properties have found that capsaicin does kill cancer cells grown in a lab.

For Muscle Pain Relief―According to Dr. Oz, capsaicin in a homemade cream formulation can be used for muscle pain relief. Dr. Oz reported that capsaicin penetrates through the skin and stimulates neurons to the extent that it overwhelms the nerves and causes a depletion of a presynaptic neurotransmitter called “substance P.” Substance P is used to signal the sensations of heat and pain to the brain; and therefore, when substance P is depleted, it leaves the affected/treated part of the body insensate to pain.

For more about the benefits of eating peppers (in safe amounts), here is how you can spice up your weight loss plan with chili peppers.


CBS News San Francisco “Ghost Pepper-Eating Contest Leaves SF Man With Hole In Esophagus

Esophageal Rupture After Ghost Pepper Ingestion” Journal of Emergency Medicine (2016) Ann Arens et al.
Image courtesy of Pixabay