The pros and cons of eating chilli on the body

The pros and cons of eating chilli on the body

Since its early origins in the Tehuacan valley of Mexico over 8,000 years ago (between 7000–6000 BC), chilli has become a global food not only found in nearly every country around the world but also adopted as an essential ingredient in their cuisines.

Due to its worldwide consumption, chilli is also known by several names including aji, cayenne, red pepper, chili pepper, paprika, jalapeno, and tabasco.

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.

The Sichuan province is famous for its bamboo forests and mountains, which are home to China’s popular pandas.

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 diet therapy; that chilli has beneficial or 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 some of the characteristics of chilli.

What is pathogenic dampness?

Chinese medicine considers dampness to be a very common pathogenic factor of the body that can cause illness. 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.

In Chinese medicine, the Spleen is important for metabolism of food and transportation of fluid. If the Spleen function is affected a person may experience the following symptoms:

  • lack of energy and lethargy
  • light sleep
  • full, bloated and heavy feeling of the stomach
  • sluggish bowel movement or loose stools
  • feeling of heaviness in the head
  • heaviness in the body, stiff neck and shoulders, arm and legs.

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 can help to relieve the symptoms and prevent further pathogenic effects.

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 due to 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 organ system to be involved in the digestion and transportation of food. If your body is affected by excessive dampness, it will affect your Spleen function. Chilli can therefore help the Spleen to rid the body of dampness, to increase the metabolism of food and make bowel movements easier. This is why some people have found chilli to be helpful in weight loss.

iii) Benefits joint pain and 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 aversion to cold, joint pain, tightness or numbness that 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 can help to expel excess dampness and warm the body.

How much chilli should you eat?

Chilli is a very strong spice. 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.

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 also understand their potentially negative effects. From this, you will be able to acquire a greater benefit from your diet.

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 eat 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, red and dry eyes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dry mouth and thirst, craving cold beverages or foods
  • Feeling hot, anxious and emotional, even heart palpitations
  • Bloating, constipation, and pungent stools
  • Very yellow/dark urination with pungent smell
  • Dry skin

If you are undergoing treatment for blood pressure, liver disease, diabetes, kidney or 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.

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 tract infection
  • Hot flushes, dry mouth and thirst through the night
  • Skin rashes

If you are unsure of your body constitution, it is best to ask your Chinese medicine practitioner.

Food as medicine (A disclaimer)

Our “food as medicine” articles share knowledge about health foods in the context of traditional Chinese medicine diet therapy and practices often dating back thousands of years. We also support this knowledge with references to published scientific research. Please keep in mind that scientific research into the health benefits of foods is still emerging and human research is limited.

Consuming a wide variety of natural foods as part of a balanced diet is most beneficial for health, however, we don’t advise using food alone to treat diseases. Please consult with your doctor or health professional about which foods are suitable for your body or health issues.

What Does The Research Say?

The following insights are obtained from scientific studies, systematic reviews and analysis of clinical trials investigating the efficacy of Chilli.

Scientific References

Browse our collection of scientific research on Chilli. It includes recent and reputable papers published by peer-reviewed journals within the last 10 years.

Angiology

2021, Mar 4

Association of Spicy Chilli Food Consumption With Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies
Angiology

This detailed article showcased that chilli has anti-inflammatory effects, antimicrobial effects, boosts gut microbiota and increases metabolism. The studies concluded that with these mechanisms, chilli reduces cardiovascular diseases and reduced mortality.

Ofori-Asenso R, Mohsenpour MA, Nouri M, Faghih S, Liew D, Mazidi M. Full Article

Scientific Reports

2020, Dec 1

Effects of Capsicum annuum supplementation on the components of metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis
Scientific Reports

This study indicated that capsicum has significant effects on metabolic syndrome therefore suppresses hunger, reduce fat intake and increases energy expenditures.

Jang, HH., Lee, J., Lee, SH. et al. Full Article

MOJ Food Processing & Technology

2018, Jul 5

Medicinal uses and health benefits of chili pepper (Capsicum spp.) : a review
MOJ Food Processing & Technology

This article showcased that chilli has nutritional values of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B5, other nutritional minerals and therapeutical benefits. These are highly effective in treating osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, colds, headaches and also anti-cancer.

Saleh BK, Omer A, Teweldemedhin B. Full Article

Molecules

2016, Jul 23

Harnessing the Therapeutic Potential of Capsaicin and Its Analogues in Pain and Other Diseases
Molecules

Capsaicin has elicited enormous interest for several centuries due to its conspicuous culinary and clinical applications. Despite its adverse effects, capsaicin is still being used as an active principle in several pharmaceutical formulations for treating various human ailments. Moreover, emerging studies have shown that capsaicin is implicated in a broader range of functions than previously anticipated. Even though it is best characterized in the field of nociception and pain, several experimental and clinical studies also demonstrate its role in other important pathological states like cancer, obesity, skin disorders, cardiovascular diseases, etc. Additionally, it has also been implicated in other activities including treatment of the upper respiratory reflexes, prevention of adipogenesis, boosting metabolic rate, and regulation of innate and adaptive immune responses.

Basith S, Cui M, Hong S, Choi S. Full Article

Open Heart

2015, Jun 17

Capsaicin may have important potential for promoting vascular and metabolic health
Open Heart

This study suggest that capsaicin has health benefits to decrease gastro ulceration, obesity, increased endothelial functions in stroke patients and decreases an overall metabolic effects

McCarty MF, DiNicolantonio JJ, O'Keefe JH Full Article

WRITTEN BY:

Dr Ping Wang is the clinic founder and senior practitioner of Ping Ming Health. She has over 30 years of experience in traditional Chinese medicine teaching and practice. Dr Ping especially enjoys sharing her knowledge of Chinese medicine through our popular clinic articles, seminars and clinical training of students and practitioners.

  • Alexander
    REPLY

    Chili is suitable to eat during damp and cold weather.
    Chili would protect the spleen from dampness and cold.
    This will help spleen to maintain the body digestive function.
    So warm and spicy characteristics of chili help the spleen to withstand dampness and cold by means of drying and warming the spleen.

    Sichuan is South West of Beijing. I would have guessed Sichuan is warmer than Beijing is. Yet Sichuan is damp and cold. Thank you for telling this.

    I find this article helps understanding the effects of a geography, season , and weather on digestion. It also helps to see how the environmental effects of season, geography, and weather can be counteracted by suitable food.

    Typically only the seasons are mentioned as factors to adjust choice of food. I think this article actually demonstrates how geography of the area such as Sichuan effects the choice of foods in this region.

    I find this article informative and stimulating.

    Thank you Dr. Ping Ming.

    3 April, 2013
  • Derek
    REPLY

    This is an interesting article and I learnt a lot from your explanations that the different foods can be good and bad depending on environmental context. Would like to hear your views on Berries (blueberry, etc) and their relation to hot and cold weathers.

    Recently, I have been eating Chilli a lot and found that I have gained many health benefits such as no lethargy, increased warmness inside and clearer skin.

    21 January, 2014
  • Ryan
    REPLY

    I love chilli. I eat a can everyday if I am able to. (I buy four at a time). But I never knew it had these kind of health benefits.

    24 July, 2014
    • But be careful; don’t forget the harmful effects if over eaten ?

      3 June, 2016
  • Carlo
    REPLY

    How does TCM explain, though, that chili originated, and is largely consumed, in very hot countries such as Central America? Cuisines that are heavy on chili are, for example, mexican, south east Asian like Indian, Thai… I guess they can be damp but definitely not cold! At the same time, you don’t find much chili in Swedish, British or Russian cuisines at all, and it doesn’t grow particularly well in those climates, does it?
    How can we explain this?
    Thanks

    3 February, 2015
  • pema
    REPLY

    I love to eat chilli and spicy food… Here I want to know how it affect our stomach?
    as I have experienced stomach pain after having heavy chilli in the meal..

    14 March, 2015
  • Wai Yee
    REPLY

    Hello, I live in Melbourne and for the most part, I find it cold the whole year (I am always cold – cold body, cold feet, cold hands). I would love to eat chilli to dispel the cold but whenever I do, I get pimples almost immediately (on my chin). What are your thoughts on this? Thank you.

    21 March, 2015
  • Shriya
    REPLY

    that was so useful thanks a lot!!!!!?

    14 March, 2016
  • Sabiha
    REPLY

    Dear Dr. Your website is very beneficial. Thanks.
    My husband’s kidneys criterion is close to 7 and he is diabetic for around 22 years.

    Can you please suggest what he should avoid and what he should increase in his diet.

    3 June, 2016
  • Sarah
    REPLY

    Hello, I would just like to ask if there is any difference in eating chilli with or without seeds? I like to eat small spicy chilli padi. However, my elders have always advised me not to eat the seeds in chilli as it is very heaty.

    24 June, 2016
  • unszwa
    REPLY

    Hello,Im from Philippines,Ive tried most of every products for slimming and want to try chilly,but I feel like hot in the bottom and something like constipation…What can you suggest?I weight 63 kgs already,,,,

    28 October, 2016

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