The amount of spice used in food preparations varies across cultures. Many people around the world enjoy spicy foods, either regularly or occasionally. The tolerance to consuming spicy foods also varies between individuals. Some people can consume very spicy foods with no apparent consequences, whereas some can get sick eating even mildly spiced foods. Most people fall in between these two extremes in terms of tolerance to spicy foods.
Spicy foods are also referred to as being “hot”. However, the word “hot” in this context does not refer to the temperature of the food. Rather, the term “hot” refers to the common symptom of a burning sensation in the mouth and on the lips that occurs after eating spicy foods. This burning sensation is usually temporary and localized.
Drinking fluids or eating bread that soaks up the oils containing the spices may provide some relief from the burning sensation. In some people, more severe symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea may occur after consumption of a spicy meal. Also, the lining of the alimentary tract may get irritated all the way from the throat to the anus.
Problems caused by eating spicy foods
The following are the common signs and symptoms that may appear after the consumption of a spicy meal:
- Burning sensation in the mouth and on the lips
- Watery eyes and runny nose
- Profuse sweating and facial flushing
- Heartburn caused by the reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus
- Abdominal bloating and belching
- Abdominal pain
- Burning sensation in the anus
As mentioned previously, not everybody experiences all of these symptoms after the consumption of spicy foods. The tolerance to consumption of spicy foods varies among individuals. So, different individuals may display different combinations of the signs and symptoms mentioned above. Stomach or abdominal pain and diarrhea are two common bothersome symptoms that occur after eating a spicy meal. These conditions are described next.
Abdominal Pain from Spicy Foods
Pain in the stomach can occur after eating very spicy foods. The spices in the food that are responsible for the spicy taste are, in fact, chemical irritants. These chemical irritants can cause irritation of the lining of the stomach, resulting in stomach pain. The chances of getting stomach pain after consumption of spicy foods are higher in people who already have an underlying stomach problem, such as peptic ulcer or gastritis. Peptic ulcers refer to open sores or wounds present in the lining of the stomach.
When spicy food comes in contact with these open sores, severe pain occurs. Gastritis refers to an inflammation of the lining of the stomach wall. This is a common condition that can eventually lead to peptic ulcers. Stomach pain after consumption of spicy foods is typically felt in the upper left quadrant the abdomen. The stomach is located at this position within the abdominal cavity.
Consumption of spicy foods may also cause pain in other areas of the digestive tract. For example, ulcers may also be present in the esophagus and the duodenum, causing pain in these structures when spicy foods are consumed. Irritation may also occur in the lining of the small intestine, leading to pain. The pain emanating from structures in the gastrointestinal tract other than the stomach is usually referred to as abdominal pain. The location of the abdominal may also be the upper left quadrant of the abdomen.
Read more on stomach pain.
Diarrhea from Spicy Foods
In some cases, diarrhea may occur upon consumption of spicy foods. Diarrhea typically occurs when the food moves through the bowels at an abnormally rapid rate, which interferes with the absorptive processes in the intestine. The irritant chemicals present in spicy foods are the main cause of this diarrhea.
The chemical irritants in spicy foods cause irritation of the gut wall. This leads to inflammation of the gut wall and stimulation of gut contractions. As the rate of gut contractions increases, the passage of food through the gut becomes faster than normal. The abnormally fast movement of food through the gut prevents adequate reabsorption of water during the formation of stools in the large intestine. This results in the passage of watery stools and an increased frequency of bowel movements.
Diarrhea caused by consumption of spicy foods can also lead to an imbalance in the native gut flora. The native flora of the intestine is responsible for the normal health of the human gut. The loss of some of this intestinal flora further exacerbates the diarrhea. As mentioned previously, consumption of spicy foods does not lead to diarrhea in every individual. In fact, most people do not suffer this consequence as much as the other symptoms of eating spicy foods.
Read more on foods to avoid in diarrhea.
Remedies for Pain and Diarrhea from Spicy Foods
When the symptoms are not severe and persistent, some simple changes in diet and lifestyle could help in relieving the suffering caused by consumption of spicy foods. Some of these lifestyle and dietary measures are described below. Simply opting for a bland (but balanced) diet could prevent the recurrence of stomach pain and diarrhea caused by spicy foods. Unless there is vomiting, there is no need to go for a liquid diet.
In all cases of diarrhea, ensuring adequate hydration of the body through consumption of lots of fluids and oral rehydration solutions is strongly advised. However, do not consume aerated soft drinks and sugary juices since they can worsen the diarrhea. Alkaline fluids such as milk can provide relief from stomach pain for a short period of time. However, dairy products can also worsen the diarrhea.
Consuming more fiber-rich natural foods is advisable. This can provide more solidity to the watery stools. When natural fiber-rich foods are not available, fiber supplements can be handy. Yogurt and other probiotics can help in restoration of the normal intestinal flora.
Treatment for Pain and Diarrhea from Spicy Foods
The signs and symptoms caused by consumption of spicy foods are usually temporary and resolve on their own within a couple of days. If one avoids consuming spicy foods again and there are no persistent symptoms, the condition does not require any medical treatment. However, medical treatment may become necessary when the symptoms persist or worsen, usually due to the presence of underlying conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or peptic ulcers.
The following medications may be prescribed in such conditions:
- Antacids: Antacids are typically given to combat stomach pain. Drugs that suppress stomach acid production may also be given for this purpose.
- Antidiarrheals: Treatment of diarrhea may sometimes require antidiarrheal medications. However, antidiarrheals should not be used when there is an underlying gastrointestinal infection.
- Supplements: Fiber supplements and probiotics can help in combating diarrhea in the short term.
- Intravenous rehydration: One of the serious complications of diarrhea is dehydration. In cases of severe diarrhea, intravenous administration of fluids and hospitalization may be required.