Hot tamale! Whether you’re taste testing Five Alarm Chili or chugging Cholula, you know the rules: heat in, heat out.
Hot foods spice up your life, and give food flavor. Every regional cuisine has its own take on heat, from aji amarillo in Peru to Thailand’s prik kee noo suan. Hot peppers take ordinary foods and make them the bomb.
But, like… why does it make your butt feel spicy? There’s just one culprit: Capsaicin. That’s the chemical component that gives chilli peppers their heat, so it douses every spicy dish. Whenever you eat, the food gets broken down in your digestive system.
Most nutrients are absorbed in this process via the intestinal wall. But whatever isn’t absorbed, including undigested compounds like capsaicin, sits in the colon until it’s time to be excreted. The result? A “hot delivery” out your back door.
Now that you know what’s causing your “hot tamales”, keep reading to learn more about why spicy food makes you poop and what you can do to cool your stool.
Why Spicy Food Makes You Poop
They say Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper partakes in his peck of pickled peppers, how soon after will Peter Piper poop?
Based on science? He’s gonna poop pretty soon after.
As soon as Capsaicin hits your lips, your body feels the burn. Specifically, a brain receptor called TRPV1 is activated. TRPV1 lights up in response to heat and pain, so Capsaicin actually stimulates a response like you’re burning from the inside.
When your brain goes into firefighter mode, it releases the body’s pain blocker: endorphins. This explains the slightly euphoric feeling that hits about four hot wings in. Capsaicin doesn’t break down in the digestive process. It stays just as potent in your GI tract as when it set your mouth on fire.
So when the capsaicin hits your small intestine, your digestive system doesn’t want to hang onto the irritant. The intestines push the capsaicin through digestion double time to help keep pain levels low. Same thing happens when it hits the colon. It’s kind of like your body is playing a game of hot potato.
What Makes Spicy Food So Hot?
If you’re a hot sauce connoisseur, you’re familiar with the Scoville Scale, famed for measuring how hard a pepper punches. That scale is basically just measuring capsaicin.
Capsaicin is the chemical component that makes chili peppers hot. And chili peppers are what’s bringing the heat in almost every spicy food, from Sriracha to ragin’ Cajun. Capsaicin is actually all about the heat. It can directly stimulate a heat sensation, causing sweating and redness, and can even produce heat in the body.
Capsaicin is also an irritant. You know that burning feeling in your mouth when you down hot dishes? It can cause that same irritation with your internal mucus membranes, and can inflame our digestive system.
So, when cayenne, Fresno and jalapeño peppers and products like chili powder, hot sauce, salsa and curry travel through our digestive tracts, the same burning effect is produced. Since not all of the capsaicin gets digested when passing through the colon, this is a reason why it burns when you poop.
How Does Capsaicin Affect Your Colon?
If capsaicin has an entry song, it’s Adele. Set Fire To The Rain. Capsaicin is a powerhouse of heat, and it flames the body wherever it goes. Colon included, we’ll get to that in a minute. So what exactly is capsaicin doing in the body? And more generally, how does spicy food affect your stomach and digestion?
For most folks, the health benefits of capsaicin are definitely a reason to take the heat. Research suggests that capsaicin can help a whole host of health conditions, from reducing ulcers to increasing metabolism and keeping people active. A recent study of Italian adults found that chili intake helps increase heart health. As they say in Italian, “that’s a spicy meatball!”
When a ghost chili, for example, enters the body, the capsaicin binds with the transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) receptors in your brain. This receptor is responsible for perceiving heat and pain from spicy foods, and detecting and regulating your body temperature. The capsaicin also connects to receptors in the tongue.
When the tongue detects hot foods, your body will try to cool itself down. This is why you sweat when you bite into a curry dish at your favorite Indian restaurant or add wasabi to sushi. And what causes wasabi nose syndrome, a phrase we’ve just coined to describe that sinus clearing vibe you get from horseradish? It’s particles traveling up to the sinuses causing you to tear up.
Some people are born with more active receptors, which makes them more sensitive to spicy foods. But you can actually train your body to take the heat. If you make a habit of chowing down on fiery foods, your body will naturally adapt and decrease your sensitivity levels.
Studies have shown that chili peppers can even help reduce gastric ulcers because capsaicin stimulates neurons in the stomach. A study of different cultural populations in Singapore found that folks who consumed hot chilies in their diets were less likely to get ulcers than those that didn’t. This may be because capsaicin sends signals to your tum to protect itself.
While hot peppers are good for combating ulcers, if you have a sensitive stomach or medical issues like celiacs disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), beware of consuming large amounts of spicy foods. This is not a good case study for more is more! If anything, you may have to swear off spicy food altogether.
Capsaicin can increase symptoms like burning and abdominal pain. Milder peppers like jalapeños in moderation is a better option than habanero peppers. People with IBS are generally advised by doctors and nutritionists to eat from the low-FODMAP diet (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols).
The specialized diet is designed to remove foods that can cause intestinal pain and discomfort. It is also recommended for those with IBS to identify problematic foods.
So wait, what about the colon? Well, it’s important to remember that capsaicin is an irritant, and like many spices it is not broken down in the digestive process. It hits your intestine with the same intensity as it hits the lips. Your whole body gets to feel the burn!
Same thing happens when it hits the colon: your colon is feeling the burn, and it wants to speed up the digestive process. This is why spicy foods can cause diarrhea.
Your digestive system doesn’t want to hold the heat long enough for your full digestive process, so it pushes the poop out before the watery part of the stool is fully absorbed. And since the capsaicin is still in your poop, you may experience a burning sensation upon elimination. You’ve been warned!
How Do I Stop My Poop From Being Spicy?
After biting into your favorite spicy dish, your mouth may feel like a five-alarm fire. Water doesn’t seem to help. If anything, H2O spreads the fire! So, what can you do to calm the digestive storm?
Here are a few ways to neutralize spicy food in your stomach:
The casein in dairy products like milk, sour cream, ice cream and yogurt block the capsaicin from binding with the receptors in your mouth and intestinal tract. It’s kind of like a firewall!
Chug a Beer
Similar to milk, capsaicin dissolves in alcohol. It’s a good thing that beer pairs perfectly with hot wings. Yum yum.
Eat Nut Butters
Nut butters like peanut butter or almond butter are rich in fat. Capsaicin is soluble in fats, which means that it can be dissolved. It’s thick, gooey and can neutralize spicy dishes without ruining them.
Add Something Sweet
Sugar and honey can help tame the wildfire in your mouth. Drinking juice or adding a spoonful of sugar to your plate could help decrease the spiciness of foods.
East Something Starchy
Starchy foods like pasta, potatoes and bread can combat spiciness.
Trying one of the methods above can help ease the heat pain that comes with spicy food. Perhaps more importantly, they can also help neutralize the heat when you hit the toilet.
We love spicy foods, but they can come at a price. And the debt is paid out by your butthole. Folks that “live for the burn” of spicy foods may be gluttons for punishment, and may be helping their body stay strong in the long run. And almost anyone can increase their heat tolerance. By increasing your frequency of consumption, you can become a Scoville scale kamikaze.
If you want to ease the intensity of your next Kung Pao Chicken, you have options. Dairy products and sweets are great ways to combat the burning sensation of capsaicin in spicy foods going down. And importantly, they also help prevent your poop from coming out extra hot the next time you’re in the bathroom.After a fire-y food session, be sure to clean your butt with our classic bidet to get that much needed cooling comfort.