Hot sauce can be dangerous.
Take the case of an unnamed Austin woman, who was assaulted after a round of karaoke by an assailant holding a bottle of hot sauce. “Because the bottle could have caused more severe damage or death,” a report from KXAN concluded, “authorities considered it a deadly weapon.” Granted, just about anything can be deadly when hurled at a mediocre karaoke singer. But what about if you use hot sauce, you know, the normal way? Is it good for your health, or will the spiciness eventually catch up with you?
First, The Potential Benefits
One 2015 study of capsaicin, the chemical that gives peppers their spicy quality, concluded that “dietary capsaicin… has intriguing potential for health promotion.” The study, conducted by researchers in Encinitas, California and Kansas City, Missouri, recommend further clinical evaluation related to how spicy foods may help with a number of ailments, including diabetes, liver disease, hypertension, and even obesity. The study concludes noting that too much spice can trigger the same receptors that tell your body to react to exceedingly hot temperatures and acids, so “the possibility that high-dose capsaicin might exert unanticipated or unwanted physiological effects should be borne in mind.” In other words, while closely-monitored intake of spicy foods may have its benefits, these scientists aren’t exactly endorsing keeping hot sauce in your bag (swag).
Just An Irritant
But what about heartburn and ulcers? Traditional wisdom holds that spicy foods can cause these painful conditions. Fortunately, science doesn’t really back that up. The foods that cause heartburn, or acid reflux, cause the valve at the top of the stomach to relax. Caffeine, mint, and alcohol can contribute, but spicy foods aren’t the worst culprits—even if they can irritate the lining of the stomach. What about ulcers? A 2006 study coming out of India notes that investigations “have revealed that chilli or its active principle ‘capsaicin’ is not the cause for ulcer formation but a ‘benefactor.'” “Capsaicin does not stimulate but inhibits acid secretion, stimulates alkali, mucus secretions and particularly gastric mucosal blood flow which help in prevention and healing of ulcers,” the study’s abstract notes. “Capsaicin acts by stimulating afferent neurons in the stomach and signals for protection against injury causing agents.” That means that capsaicin irritating properties might actually benefit ulcers. However, we should note that the science is still out on this subject.
A Cancer Correlation?
Scientists from the Fourth Hospital of Hebei Medical University in China looked at 250 people who had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the communities near the hospital. The researchers concluded that this specific type of “cancer could be caused by genetics acting in synergy with environmental factors.” One of the factors listed was “hot food” consumption. Still, the study only looked at 250 people—far too few to prove a correlation. For now, spicy foods seem to be perfectly fine in moderation, provided that you don’t have dietary restrictions. So, there you have it; hot sauce is probably perfectly fine, as long as you’re not experiencing serious, ahem, gastric distress. Just be sure that you don’t wield it like a deadly weapon, and you shouldn’t have to curb your habits.