Love Chilli? A Doctor Says You're Missing These Neurotransmitters

Oh, good.
Tatiana Lavrova via Getty Images

Some of us (the righteous sort) love spice, but for others, the thought of chilli alone is enough to break them into a sweat.

If you’re one of those people ― especially if consuming the chilli actually does cause you to perspire ― you’re not alone. Recently, Dr. Karan Raj (a doctor who’s known for debunking medical myths and sharing unusual facts on TikTok) stitched a video that had the caption, “When you’re used to spicy food and tell the non-spicy-food person it isn’t spicy but it’s too spicy for them.”

They then showed the red-rimmed, tear-soaked eyes of the imagined victim. But why is it that some people are able to handle the heat, while others baulk at the idea?

Spice lovers have literally changed their nerve endings

”If you enjoy spicy food and eat a lot of it, you are literally rewiring your nerves,” the doctor begins, going on to say that “your tongue does not have a spicy tastebud.”

There’s a science behind the pain of spicy foods, after all. Dr. Raj says that capsaicin, the source of chillis’ spice, “binds to and activates pain receptors in your mouth and tongue called TRVP1.” In fact, the element is irritating enough to be used as tool in the study of pain.

If you chow down on some spicy food regularly enough, though, these receptors begin to degrade. Over time, these nerve cells become depleted of something called substance P (a neurotransmitter involved in pain signalling).

The more you eat, the less substance P those TRVP1 nerves have to work with ― and the higher your spice tolerance becomes. “Basically, the more spicy food you eat, you are physically changing the nerve ending ― to the point where your nerves actually degrade,” Dr. Raj said. “You become numb to the spice, and we don’t know why this happens.“

The nerves can grow back

Though your fave hot sauce could lessen the number of neurotransmitters in certain nerves, Dr. Raj says that these can bounce back. “The nerves can and do grow back,” he points out, “So if you want to maintain your tolerance to spicy food, you need to eat it often.”

He adds that, because your nerves will grow number every time, “You’ll want it spicier and spicier so you can feel the burn.” (I can stop any time I like, I promise...)

So, the next time someone suggests you don’t have the nerve to try something spicy, you might want to point out that you’ve got more complete receptors than they do.

Here’s the entire video: