For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved hot sauces and hot peppers. If it’s super-spicy, I’m happy. If my mouth is burning, my nose is running, my eyes bloodshot, my ears tingling, and my lips swollen … well, it’s good stuff.

There’s a fascinating write-up on Capsaicin, the chemical in hot peppers that gives you the burn. Most of it is medical-speak, but there are some areas that us common folks can understand. It lists the bad and good, although from what I can tell, the bad are from concentrated daily doses, which is a no-brainer. However, low dosage on a frequent basis has been known to have phenomenal benefits.

Capsaicin can be used topically in many ways. It can be applied to relieve the pains or rheumatism and neuritis. Plasters are affective for congestion of the chest or muscle pain. Heavy sprinkling in socks may help cold toes and feet. Gargling oil of capsicum can treat sore throats. The oil of capsicum can also anesthetize and sterilize tooth cavities and may relieve toothaches for months. For internal use, powdered chili may be taken in hot water as a tea or swallowed in capsules. Large doses of red pepper are recommended for the treatment of alcoholic gastritis and ulcers, because chili brings a great deal of blood to the surface of mucous membranes, and increased blood supply should promote healing. Taken internally, chili is said to purify the blood, tone the liver, and clear the respiratory tract.

It can be seen from these studies that consumption of peppers and/or chilies could result in genotoxicity, neurotoxicity and induction of cancer. These results should be taken under serious consideration for population that consume high levels of on a daily basis. Why people eat chili peppers despite their extreme spiciness can be a puzzling notion to understand. Capsaicin produces its distinctive heat by stimulating not the taste buds but the pain receptors in our mouths. The more capsaicin a pepper contains the hotter the burning sensation. So why, given all that pain, do some keep going back for more? One theory holds that capsaicin, by triggering pain receptors, prompts the release of endorphins–those “feel good” opiates naturally released in the body. Some analogize the consumption of chilies to that of climbing back on a roller coaster again and again – to savor the feeling of danger without actually putting ourselves in harm’s way (a phenomenon called benign masochism). Others believe it is for a more down-to-earth reason: “Peppers add to a sensory excitement, even an exhilaration, to the other flavors in a meal,” says Green in the September 1994 issue of Health.