The Spicy Debate: Can Consuming Chillies Damage Taste Bud Sensitivity?

Photo of Vibrant Red Chili Peppers

Have you ever wondered why some individuals prefer chilly in their cuisine more than others? Why do their eyes well up with tears and their brain shut down for a while? Many people believe that if they consume more chillies, their taste sensibility would be ruined and they will not be able to feel the taste of anything after eating chillies. Let’s determine how much truth exists in the subject and the reasoning behind it.

How our bodies interpret the taste of a certain food?

Many people believe that our bodies can detect thousands of tests, but this is not the case. Our bodies can only detect five flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. We can detect the difference between a banana and an orange thanks to these flavors. To receive the pleasure of all these flavors’, we have little bumps on our tongue with test buds hidden inside. A test bud has between 10 and 100 test receptors. When we consume anything, such as an apple, the proteins and chemicals inside it bind to those receptors and signal our brain which of the five flavors we are tasting. These test buds are evenly distributed throughout the whole tongue. You are now aware that there are five tastes, and spicy is not one of them.

How do we detect the spicy taste?

To detect spicy foods, our bodies employ a distinct technique. In our central nervous system, there is a fifth cranial nerve known as the “trigeminal nerve”. This is also the biggest cranial nerve, and it is in charge of sending touch, pain, and temperature sensations to the brain. When we consume anything spicy, it triggers these nerves.

Capsaicin

Capsaicin is a component of chillies. It can be found in many kinds of chillies. This component is directly responsible for the burning sensation or taste of chilly. Capsaicin is an irritant; when we consume something spicy, our trigeminal nerve activates and recognizes it as a toxin, signaling it to the brain. The brain then acts as a defense mechanism, raising the body’s temperature, causing the sweat and the heart to beat rapidly and it also causes the numbness in our tongue. It also releases “Endorphins”, which are simply the hormones that are released by our brain in response to pain or stress in the body. It prevents pain signals from reaching the brain, and helps our body to relax.

Can this numbness damage your taste receptors?

People believe that their taste receptors are injured as a result of this numbness, which is a misconception. This capsaicin does not act unlike other forms of toxins that causes harm to the body. It is safe for our body to consume it. Yet, however, the nervous system recognizes it as a toxin and initiates the fight-or-flight reaction. People mistake this numbness as a taste which is completely incorrect.

Capsaicin has long been used to treat pain, such as Nerulagia. Neuralgia is a sort of discomfort that develops in the nerves on the skin’s surface. This pain is quite painful and distressing. Capsaicin has been proven to be quite efficient in putting a halt to this kind of pain. Aside from that, it alleviates the discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis.

Factors affecting taste bud sensitivity

Taste bud sensitivity affects our tastes and dietary choices and hence plays an important part in our entire food experiences. Understanding the mechanisms influencing taste bud sensitivity is critical for understanding individual variances in taste perception.

  • Genetic Influences: Genetics plays a significant role in determining an individual’s taste preferences and sensitivity. Specific genes influence taste receptor cell types and their responsiveness to different flavors. Genetic variations in taste receptor genes can lead to heightened or diminished sensitivity to particular tastes. Additionally, the ability to detect bitterness, a trait influenced by genetic factors, can impact food choices and dietary habits.
  • Age-related Changes: Taste bud sensitivity can change over time due to the aging process. As people grow older, their taste buds may experience a gradual decline in sensitivity. This can lead to a reduced ability to detect certain flavors, such as sweetness and saltiness. Age-related changes in taste bud sensitivity can affect eating habits and nutritional intake.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Various lifestyle factors can influence taste bud sensitivity. Smoking, for instance, has been linked to a diminished sense of taste and smell, affecting the overall taste experience. On the other hand, exposure to certain foods and flavors can enhance taste bud sensitivity over time. Moreover, dietary habits, such as excessive consumption of high-sugar or high-salt foods, can impact taste perceptions and preferences.
  • Medical Conditions and Medications: Certain medical conditions, such as upper respiratory infections and hormonal imbalances, can temporarily alter taste bud sensitivity. Additionally, medications used to treat various health issues can affect taste perception, leading to taste disturbances or loss of taste.

How capsaicin levels are measure in chillies?

To know the amount of capsaicin in a chili we use “Scoville scale”, which is used to determine the capsaicin level, just as there is a unit to measure everything. Scoville Heat Units (SHU) are used to measure the heat of any chillies. The more units there are, the hotter the chillies. A regular bell pepper, for example, contains 0 (SHU), a Jalapeo pepper on the other hand has 2500 – 10,000, (SHU) and Carolina Reaper among them is the spiciest chili peppers. It has almost 1,500,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). It is too much for a normal person to tolerate it. Even though there is no danger of death by eating it, but the discomfort that it causes the body can be excruciating.

Regional diversity in spicy foods

Different cultures have developed their unique approaches to incorporating spicy flavors into their culinary traditions. For instance, Indian cuisine is renowned for its complex spice blends, such as garam masala, while Thai cuisine emphasizes the use of fiery Thai chilies. Mexican cuisine features a diverse range of chili peppers, like habanero and jalapeño, giving dishes a distinct kick.

Social and symbolic Importance

Spicy foods often carry deep social and symbolic significance within cultures. In some societies, spicy dishes are associated with celebrations and festivals, representing joy and abundance. In others, certain spicy foods may be reserved for specific occasions or served as remedies during cold seasons.

What to do in spicy overload situation?

Suppose, you accidentally ate a lot of chillies, and want to get relieve from the painful burning sensation. First thing you should do is to avoid drinking water; it may aggravate your condition since drinking water allows capsaicin to move all over your body, making your condition worse than before. That is why, if something like this happens to you, try to consume milk first.

Photo of a glass of milk

Casein in milk attaches to capsaicin molecules and helps drain them out of the body. However, the milk should only be buffalo or cow milk and not coconut, almond. Because casein is only present in animal milk and not in plant derived form. In case, if you are lactose intolerant and cannot drink milk, don’t worry; you have alternative options. You can consume anything acidic. Because capsaicin is alkaline in nature, it requires something acidic to neutralize it. As a result, you can drink orange juice or mix 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in 250 ml of water. This will also aid in the cooling of your body.

In conclusion, if you like to consume chillies, you can definitely consume it. This will not harm your taste receptors. However, if you are sensitive to the heat of chili, taking it in moderation is advised.

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