In one province of China called Sichuan, chilli is a very popular food. Almost everyone there eats chilli with each meal. The local chefs use chilli with every dish, and without chilli, Sichuan food would not be as delicious. Many Chinese diet therapy researchers have found that Sichuan people eat a lot of chilli because it is associated with their weather, which makes chilli a suitable food for them to eat.
Sichuan is a very damp, foggy and cold place throughout most of the year. One very important function of chilli is to clear the dampness and to expel the cold. This is in accordance with Traditional Chinese Medicine as it is well-known that eating certain foods can help to expel environmental conditions (such as dampness and cold) which may affect the body. This why the local people of Sichuan like to each chilli and many people have told me that if you live in Sichuan, you should also learn to eat chilli.
I have another story to tell you from my friends. My friend who lives in Beijing visited Sichuan to work for a few months. When he stayed there, he ate chilli every day and he was very healthy and happy. When he came back to Beijing, he was still keen to eat chilli dishes every day. However, after a couple of weeks he started to have a dry throat, dry nose, red burning eyes, pimples, pain after bowel movement and swelling on his bottom. At this point, he stopped eating chilli and started to eat the foods he ate before he went to Sichuan. Since he did this, his symptoms disappeared. This story is an example of the theory of Chinese Medicine; that chilli has beneficial and negative effects on the body all depending on the amount, the season, time and location where you eat it.
Now I would like to share with you the characteristics of chilli.
1. What is pathogenic dampness?
Chinese Medicine considers dampness to be a very common pathogenic factor on the body. It comes from the environment especially when it is the wet season with continuous rain, cloud and fog. When these conditions last for too long or occur very often, it will affect the body by moving the dampness into the body. When the dampness affects the body it will affect primarily the spleen and its function.
The spleen is important for metabolism of food and transportation of fluid. If the spleen function is affected it may have the following symptoms: lack of energy, lethargy, light sleep, full, bloated and heavy feeling of the stomach, sluggish bowel movement or loose stool, feeling of heaviness in the head, stiff neck and shoulders, arm and leg heaviness. For some people, if the symptoms above are not controlled some may develop under-active thyroid, weight gain, diabetes and high blood pressure.
So if you are staying in a very damp and cold place or your body is affected by dampness, I suggest that during your treatment you can eat a certain amount of chilli with your food, which can help to clear the dampness and cold from the body. It will help to treat the symptoms and prevent further pathogenic effects.
2. The health benefits of chilli
i) Helps to clear fluid retention, dampness and cold
The characteristics of chilli is spicy and warm. It acts upon the spleen channel and helps the spleen to metabolise fluid and expel dampness and cold from environmental conditions. From this point, we now understand why Sichuan people like to eat chilli.
ii) Helps to digest food
Chinese Medicine considers the spleen to be a major organ involved in the digestion and transportation of food. If your body is damp, it will affect the spleen function. Chilli can therefore help the spleen to rid the body of dampness so it is functioning well. It can increase the transport and metabolism of food and make bowel movements easier. This is why some people have found chilli to be helpful in weight loss.
iii) Helps to stop joint pain and prevent arthritis
Environmental cold and dampness can easily affect the joints and circulation. This may cause stagnation in the joints which may cause joint problems such as joint pain and arthritis.
This is associated with symptoms such as joint pain, joint tightness or numbness, aversion to cold, joint pain worsens when the environment is cold or wet and damp. Some people may even feel the cold or rain before it comes as their joints start to feel uncomfortable. This is why Chinese Medicine diagnosis and treatment pays a lot of attention to body conditions and the season.
If you suffer from the symptoms above, and are undergoing treatment, eating a certain amount of chilli can help your condition. Eating foods with spicy characteristics help to expel dampness and warm the body to remove the cold.
3. How much chilli should you eat?
I suggest that even if your body or the season is suitable to eat chilli, you should only eat a certain amount. Don’t over eat it. I know someone who ate chilli and had ulcers in the mouth, pimples and constipation the next day after eating a large quantity of chilli. If you eat too much, you may over-heat the body. If you are unsure of the symptoms associated with over-heating the body. Please check the symptoms below.
4. Precautions of eating chilli
Above I mentioned the beneficial effects of chilli on the body. But like every single food, they can have both good and bad effects. I suggest that when you choose your foods, especially when you eat them often, you should understand the downfalls of them. From this, you will be able to acquire a greater benefit from your diet.
i) As chilli is very hot, it may bring lots of heat into the body. If you already have a hot body constitution it is better to east less or avoid eating this hot food. Otherwise the body may become overheated causing a yin and yang imbalance.
The following symptoms are associated with a hot body constitution: Red face, body easy to perspire, dry mouth, craving cold beverages or foods, feeling hot, anxiety and emotional, bloating, constipation, pungent stool, very yellow/dark urination with pungent smell, heart palpitations, dry skin, red and dry eyes.
ii) If you are undergoing treatment for blood pressure, liver disease, diabetes, kidney and heart disease. It is best to be cautious when eating chilli. Please consult your Chinese medicine practitioner, to see whether it is suitable for you.
iii) In my many years of clinical experience, I realised for the following symptoms it is best to avoid eating chilli: stomach and bowel ulcers, stomach infections, heartburn, haemorrhoids, swelling, pain or bleeding after bowel movement, fever, sore throat, cough with yellow phlegm, urinary bladder infection, hot flushes, dry mouth and thirsty through the night or skin rash.
iv) If you are unsure of your body constitution, it is best to ask your Chinese medicine practitioner.