Whether it’s dousing everything in habanero hot sauce or eating a punchy curry, some people live for spicy food – while others can’t quite stomach it.

‘Spicy food’ can cover a broad range of things of course, but here we’re talking specifically about chilli peppers. They include an active ingredient called capsaicin – which is actually “an irritant”, according to Professor Stuart Bloom, consultant gastroenterologist at The Wellington Hospital, Part of HCA Healthcare UK.


So, what actually happens to your body when you have a hot spicy meal?

Physical reactions

“They [the ingredient capsaicin] do have a bit of an effect on stimulating blood flow in the gut and increasing mucus production,” Bloom explains, and they can also cause diarrhoea.

As delicious as hot food might be to many people, it’s still an irritant, says Bloom: “It definitely is associated with increased indigestion and feelings of stomach burning.” However, the effect it has on your body really differs from person to person – explaining why some people will happily put chilli flakes on everything, and others start sweating at the sight of it.

Bloom says: “If you’ve got underlying conditions like IBS, indigestion, or either colitis or Crohn’s, then spicy foods can make symptoms worse. Spicy food will give you diarrhoea, so if you’ve got a kind of IBS where you have dodgy guts anyway, spicy foods will often aggravate.”


Fire Cook GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY


Sometimes you can react physically to what you’re eating beyond your gut and digestion too – you might find yourself getting hot, bothered and a bit sweaty. “It stimulates blood flow and it causes a sort of reflex reaction, the pores dilate,” Bloom explains. “Some of the oils in spicy foods actually have an effect on the skin flow, and you do get a sweating response.”

However, there’s a reason you might keep on reaching for hotter and hotter food. Eating chillies can potentially release endorphins – perhaps explaining why you feel such a rush after a spicy meal, even if your mouth is still a bit numb.

If something is extremely hot – we’re talking unreasonably spicy, such as the infamous ghost pepper – you might have an even greater physical reaction, including vomiting.

Effects on the immune system

Turmeric is often found in spicy dishes (Alamy/PA)

While there are some suggestions spicy food can boost your immune system, Bloom says: “The jury’s out.”

He admits not enough research has been done on the matter – but not all is lost, particularly if you’re partial to hot curries with hints of turmeric.

“Turmeric does seem to boost the immune system, and there’s quite a lot of research on the effect of turmeric on colitis and Crohn’s disease,” Bloom explains. “Although that’s not a hot spice, I suppose it is a spice and it’s in a lot of spicy dishes.”

Spicy food and appetite

Bloom finds this a particularly interesting area of research, as the evidence is conflicting. He cites a 2014 China Kadoorie Biobank study, “showing spicy food is associate with weight gain”, but notes it didn’t look at cause and effect. “It could be anything – could be people who like their food more, eat spice as a part of that,” Bloom adds.

On the flipside, Bloom mentions other studies showing capsaicin “can actually increase calorie expenditure and reduce appetite. So there is a little bit of evidence to suggest spicy foods may help to regulate appetite, rather than make you put on weight.”

Misconceptions around spicy food


La Pepper GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY


Bloom wants to bust a few myths around spicy food too. “A lot of people thought spicy foods cause ulcers, but in fact there’s no evidence that happens at all,” he suggests. “The spices have a role in reducing acid production, stimulating alkali, stimulating mucus and stimulating blood flow. If anything, you can make the case that spicy foods actually help digestion, and help the blood flow to the gut.”

He also wants to challenge the notion that spicy food aggravates haemorrhoids or can cause cancer, saying “there’s no evidence for that”.

So there you have it! How your body reacts to hot spicy food may vary from person to person, possibly dependant on any underlying digestive issues, how sensitive your system is – and of course whether you like it or not!

Best-selling turmeric powder

Stuck for inspiration? Check out our list of best-selling Amazon products!

Bestseller No. 1
Old India Turmeric Powder (Haldi) 1 Kg
  • Our branded world-class Old India products are 100% natural, additive free and GMO free.
  • It can be added to curries, vegetable dishes, sauces, soups, stews and much more.
  • Comes in a heat sealed bag to retain freshness and has up to a two year shelf life.
Bestseller No. 2
Sevenhills Wholefoods Organic Turmeric Powder 1kg
  • Premuim variety - Curcumin levels 3%
  • A great deal of research now exists, highlighting the many benefits adding Turmeric to your diet can have, easily added to a variety of foods and not just curries
  • Versatile to use; add to milk for a Turmeric latte or to curries
SaleBestseller No. 3
Rajah Spices Haldi Ground Turmeric | Holud | Haldi | Haldar | Haladi | (400g)
  • Rajah Spices Haldi Ground Turmeric | AUTHENTIC & PURE: 100% pure and authentic spices
  • Rajah Spices Haldi Ground Turmeric | SUPERIOR QUALITY: Rajah Spices are of the highest quality & safety standards and are expertly sourced & selected
  • Rajah Spices Haldi Ground Turmeric | RESEALABLE: Comes in a resealable bag to maintain freshness
Bestseller No. 4
Schwartz Ground Turmeric, 31g
  • Schwartz turmeric is grown in india for a deliciously authentic colour and flavour
  • Turmeric is high in curcumin and complements poultry and seafood dishes, giving it a warm colour and bringing out the meat's natural flavour & really comes into its own in curries, soups and relishes
  • It also works very well in a whole host of lentil, rice and vegetable-based dishes
Bestseller No. 5
Organic Turmeric Powder | Pure and Potent Anti Inflammatory and Antioxidant Turmeric Powder...
  • THE ULTIMATE TURMERIC CURCUMIN POWDER – Superfood World Turmeric Root Powder is the Ultimate ANTI INFLAMMATORY & ANTIOXIDANT Superfood. Turmeric is one nature’s most powerful and most researched...
  • UK 100% CERTIFIED ORGANIC – You only deserve the best when you purchase Superfood World Organic Certified Turmeric Root Powder. Our natural Turmeric Curcumin Powder is gluten free, non GMO, Packaged...
  • POWERFUL ANTIOXIDANTS – Turmeric Curcumin is world renowned for being a powerful anti-inflammatory superfood with antioxidants that support healthy joint function, digestive, skin and brain health....

Last update on 2021-11-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

You may also be interested in…

Wise Living Magazine may receive a small commission to help support the running of this site from purchases made from links on this page, or some links may have been sponsored to be included in the article. Affiliate or sponsored links do not influence our editorial or articles published by Wise Living.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.