If you know someone who insists they “don’t do” spicy food, it could be that they just aren’t trying hard enough. That, according to some new science, which says we can train our bodies to handle hot stuff.
Here’s how it works: Chiles contain a chemical called capsaicin, which binds to a pain receptor called TRPV1 that is responsible for regulating heat exposure and body temperature . When that happens, capsaicin makes it easier to trigger the pain receptors, basically fooling the brain into thinking that your mouth is much hotter than it actually is and causing you to reach for the nearest cold beverage.
Now, research is suggesting that the more you eat spicy food, the higher your tolerance for heat will be. The theory is that the more you expose your body to spicy foods, the more desensitized your pain receptors will become, and as a result, you’ll need to eat more of Uncle Bill’s five-alarm chili to feel the same burn that caused you to chug a gallon of water the first time you tried it. Other factors may play a role as well; a recent study of French men found a positive correlation between testosterone levels and the amount of hot sauce they used on their potatoes. Those with spicier preferences also demonstrated tendencies toward social aggression, dominance and risk-taking behaviors. Psychological and cultural factors may also influence individuals’ spice tolerance and preferences.
Though research is just beginning to scratch the surface on the science of spice, if you’re trying to build up your tolerance to heat, don’t let that stop you from ordering your noodles “Thai spicy” the next time you eat out. It might take some practice and a lot of brow-wiping, but eventually you’ll be able to enjoy those ghost peppers—or at least some extra Tabasco sauce on your hash browns.
[h/t The Atlantic]