Help me help my guts to help me eat spicy food again.
August 12, 2011 6:04 AM   Subscribe

What can I do about my gut reacting badly to spicy foods? (Not necessarily pretty inside)

In the past two years, or so, something has changed in my guts and I can no longer eat spicy foods like I once could. I now suffer from what I call "The Revenge of the Jalapeno," because it frequently happens after I eat too many delicious delicious pickled jalapeno slices. In about 12 hours the jalapenos want out, and they want out with some urgency. Last night (for the first time) I was woken up at 1 am needing to use the bathroom.

Relevant information:
1) It is not only jalapenos that do this to me, all hot peppers or hot sauces do it.

2) We aren't talking about anything particularly hot here. I used to eat things much hotter, but jalapenos are not that hot, and yet it still occurs. I also don't think this is really about overindulgence. (E.g., last night I ate maybe 10 pickled jalapeno slices, but probably less than that.)

3) I'm not concerned about the ring of fire here, that's a different phenomenon.

So, is there anything I can do to re-adjust my gut? I love spicy food, and I'm verging on not being able to eat it anymore.
posted by OmieWise to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I love spicy pepper myself and have just surrendered to the repercussions. I haven't found a solution except to eat more spicy peppers and sauces.

I think it just comes with the territory. Loving hot peppers ends up causing pain. The question you have to ask yourself "is it worth it?" For me a resounding yes.
posted by handbanana at 6:08 AM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

tried doing things like eating a banana or two before the fun (the eating, not the other thing)? Coats your belly :)
posted by zombieApoc at 6:13 AM on August 12, 2011

Maybe stupid question, but what non-hot spices and herbs are you eating with your meals? One tradition with some Indian families is to consume fennel seeds after meals, which my personal experience and this somewhat wishy-washy blog entry suggest is better for digestion. Cumin and epazote have similar properties and go well with Mexican and Tex-Mex food.
posted by ayerarcturus at 6:23 AM on August 12, 2011

I hate to break it to you, but this happened to me and I have never fully recovered. Although it took me a long time to figure out spicy food was causing my stomach problems because all I ate was spicy food. I used to put 1-2 fresh jalapenos on every sandwich I ate, for example. You might not have let things get so bad as me, so maybe there isn't as much damage.

The only things that I have found help were moderation and making sure I don't eat spicy food on an empty stomach. I had to stop eating spicy food for a year or two before I could slowly re-introduce it. I am also curiously intolerant to jalapenos in particular, but I am able to eat other types of hot sauce, like Sriracha, or things much hotter than that. It's just a matter of experimentation. I am not sure what it is about jalapenos though. I think it was just I overdid it with them and my body just rejects them now.
posted by milarepa at 6:24 AM on August 12, 2011

I get this, and I used to eat jalapeno slices like potato chips. A friend mine, same thing: he loved spicy foods and suddenly, even the littlest bit of capsacin and it's bad news bears. Doesn't matter how spicy it was at all; as long as its in the family, there is pain and suffering and man it's bad.

We both had to stop. Tried every trick in the book and every time -- even after a little pico de gallo at a mexican restaurant -- it was like clockwork. Peppers, toilet, pain.

I suggest you seek out other sorts of "spice" that is outside the pepper family. Horseradish, garlic, etc.
posted by griphus at 6:25 AM on August 12, 2011

Probably I'm overreacting: when I had gallstones, leading to its removal, I had a lot of trouble with spicy food and specifically its digestion. Nowadays (about 10 years later) I'm pretty good with things like jalapenos, but it used to be pretty rough.

I dunno about your medical plan or age or if you've looked into it, but if you're worried about why and whether it could be significant, think about checking out your gallbladder?
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:27 AM on August 12, 2011

The angry firefighters are just the price you have to pay for the privilege of flying too close to the sun. If it's really really bad you can crunch on some pink bismuth tablets.
posted by mckenney at 6:31 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it's really really bad you can crunch on some pink bismuth tablets.

Depending on the ... specificities ... of your troubles, this might be a bad idea. Pink bismuth can cause constipation, which you really don't want if you have a capsacin sensitivity and there's a bunch of it in already in you. I've got a medical textbook worth of gut problems, so MeMail me if you want to talk specifics re: this.
posted by griphus at 6:33 AM on August 12, 2011

I was having trouble with spicy foods for a long time and then I tried a few simple things that have helped a lot.

1) I decreased the amount of spicy good I was eating but definitely did not eliminate it. It tastes too good and is healthy.

2) I try to walk after eating as much as possible. I find walking helps me digest everything far, far better including spicy foods. This one has been huge for me.

3) I started eating healthier in general. Once I moved to a diet that had more fish, chicken, veggies, fruits, rice, etc, and got rid of a lot of junk food, processed food and artificial food, I found that it was a lot less likely that there would be a pre-existing acid storm in my stomach when the spicy foods were sent down.

Also, IANAD, but I try to avoid acid blocking medications that doctors are quick to prescribe. Many of them are looking for a quick fix to get you off their back. Your stomach needs acid to digest things properly. Anytime I have tried acid blockers, it gave me minimal temporary relief and did not address the root problems.
posted by fx3000 at 6:38 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you sure it's the heat instead of the vinegar? Pickled jalapenos and about 98% of bottled hot sauces contain vinegar, which is too acidic for some GI tracts. Are the other hot peppers you cite also pickled like the jalapenos you like to eat?
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:00 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

As has been suggested, first stop, then wait a few months, then slowly reintroduce in small amounts. Also, see a doctor and if you have weight to lose, try to lose some of it.

Are there gall bladder issues in your family? You want to mention this to your doctor if there are.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:03 AM on August 12, 2011

Oh, and if your doctor says it's your gall bladder and wants to take it out, get another opinion - many gall bladder issues can be resolved with lifestyle changes, even if you're 4F!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:09 AM on August 12, 2011

Are you eating chilies alone (i.e., pickled jalapeno slices from a jar standing at the open fridge and nothing else) or always in combination with corn chips or flour tortillas or seasoned beans or sour cream/cheese? If there's something you always eat them with, maybe it's a hidden grain, legume, or dairy allergy. Nachos give me gut pain something fierce, and I blamed the jalapenos for a while, but it turned out to be pretty much everything BUT the jalapenos that was the problem.
posted by catlet at 7:30 AM on August 12, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far.

I'm pretty healthy in general, with a healthy diet without much processed food. I have no indication of gall bladder issues, and no other problems with my digestion or my gut. How likely is it that this would be the only symptom of a gall bladder problem? I don't want to discount the advice here, but I'm reluctant to medicalize something that seems like a fairly common reaction to spicy food.

It isn't the vinegar, my wife thinks pickles are a macro nutrient, so I eat plenty of pickled things. It may be that jalapenos cause this particularly badly, though. Sriracha is usually not as much of a problem. I'll have to do some experiments.
posted by OmieWise at 7:30 AM on August 12, 2011

File this under "couldn't hurt, might help": Try taking an acidopholus supplement. It's good for promoting healthy gut flora anyway; I'm unclear as to whether it would help this situation in the specific, but it at least will not HURT the situation, and may be a generally healthy thing overall.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:03 AM on August 12, 2011

I don't have any helpful advice except that I noticed that fresh jalapenos don't have the same effect on me. It's definitely something about the combination of vinegar and spicy that does me in. Even most hot sauces are fine.

(and the gall bladder thing is interesting because that does run in my family)
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:24 AM on August 12, 2011

I have the same problem, but only with jalapenos.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:41 AM on August 12, 2011

(I avoid them)
posted by KokuRyu at 8:41 AM on August 12, 2011

That's really interesting because I don't have a problem with it. Huh.
posted by milarepa at 12:54 PM on August 12, 2011

I would like second above mentions of probiotics (acidopholous) as a harmless and very excellent gift to give your digestive system. I would also encourage you to keep track of acidic foods you eat:

Coffee, Orange Juice, and tomato sauce/ketchup are just a few especially acidic things that people eat frequently and never think about. Try and notice if you have any discomfort with acidity and you'll know that your digestive system is potentially becoming inflamed with caustic foods, in which case those probiotics could really help you out. (remember, just because it doesn't taste caustic on the tongue, i.e. coffee, doesn't mean it's not an acidic food, so i'd start researching those and see if you have any likely suspects in your daily regimen)

If you're comfortable with the consequences of your favorite spicy foods then by all means, just do kind things for your stomach before and after ingestion, however if you should ever experience sharp cramps or blood (from either direction) then you need to think about letting the spicy stuff go.
posted by billypilgrim at 2:13 PM on August 12, 2011

Along the lines of the suggestions for probiotics, perhaps some yogurt would help. The active culture might boost desirable intestinal flora and the dairy could buffer the irritants in the spicy food. It seemed to help me with heartburn, anyway.
posted by exogenous at 6:43 PM on August 12, 2011

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