Heartburn, Hot Sauce and Cinco de Mayo

If fear of heartburn stops you from enjoying your favorite fajitas, you’re not alone. Lovers of spicy food often wonder how to indulge in five-alarm chili without “paying the price” afterward.

Many gastroenterology patients who have heartburn (also called reflux and acid indigestion) ask me if they can avoid unpleasant symptoms by removing certain things from their diet–like spicy food, fatty food, carbonated drinks, caffeine, chocolate or peppermint. I have found little correlation of a particular food or drink with common problems of the stomach and esophagus.

Find Your Source of Heartburn

Rather than sidestep a large selection of food, eliminate items you’re not sure about one at a time. Gradually, you’ll determine what upsets your stomach and be able to consume the rest. If red-hot dishes don’t bother you, enjoy them with no worries. The idea that spicy food damages the lining of the digestive tract is not true.

Capsaicin, a substance in chili peppers, usually gives spicy foods and condiments their kick. Cinco De Mayo celebrants and die-hard hot-sauce fans sometimes experience euphoria from lots of capsaicin in their food. Some evidence indicates that the pain-stimulated release of endorphins is responsible for this “high,” so I wouldn’t say it’s harmful.

It’s not clear why some can’t tolerate fiery fare while others can. If you like scorching-hot salsa, go for it. As for the rest of us:

  • avoid tight-fitting garments to prevent added pressure on your stomach;
  • use over-the-counter antacid tablets or chewing gum to neutralize acid that “comes up” on you; and
  • absolutely avoid tobacco and alcohol.

If symptoms persist, see your friendly local gastroenterologist.

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