Why does spicy food make your nose run?

Every time you eat that all-time favorite mouthwatering mozzarella and pepperoni pizza, you always make sure to have that red hot burning sauce on top of every bite. It hurts a little but in a good way, adding more appetite to your eating habit. All types of hot sauce, whether Louisiana style, Caribbean, Hawaiian, Mexican, American, Asian, African, Indian, have one main ingredient in common-chili peppers. And these peppers that come in various sizes and colors make this burning, hot, sensation that makes our nose run.

Have you also noticed that every time you munch habanero pepper or put some hot sauce on your food, it causes a numbing or burning sensation to your tongue, and your nose and eyes will start to run, and your mouth and throat will begin to generate fluid?

Dr. Brett Comer, a surgeon and a throat specialist at the University Of Kentucky College Of Medicine, said that you might not see or feel, but your stomach and parts of your intestine will start secreting excess fluid. It is because your mouth releases that fluid when it encounters any foreign object that’s noxious, thinking that the liquid would help to move that noxious object out. Some people even develop diarrhea or an upset stomach due to the extra mucus released into the gastrointestinal tract in response to spicy food. (click here for more details)

So what is it in chili peppers that cause burning sensation making your nose run?

It’s all because of capsaicin!

Capsaicin was identified as the strong primary content in Capsicum fruits. And all hot chili peppers that belong to the plant genus Capsicum (family Solanaceae) are among the most heavily consumed spices throughout the world that contain this. Capsaicin was first isolated from chili peppers in crystalline form in 1878. (click here for more details)

One study has found out that capsaicin has therapeutic effects. By locking onto a specific pain receptor, it causes “excitation” and this excitation according to Anthony Dickenson, author of the study and a professor of neuropharmacology at University College London leads to the feeling of heat or burning pain, blood vessel dilatation, reddening of the skin, and body temperature elevation. (click here for more details)

It has the same effect, whether taken orally or applied to the skin in the form of a topical cream. Dickenson also said that once the initial “excitation” has died down, the affected pain receptors tend to become desensitized, which decreases the pain locally. Some arthritis and muscle-pain creams contain capsaicin.

Aside from its ability to combat pain, capsaicin has several potential health benefits. In China, research has linked the consumption of spicy foods containing capsaicin, to lower mortality rates. Although explanations for this link are unstable, some researchers claim that the compound seems to strengthen the heart and improve metabolic functions. Other experts have found evidence that it also aids in the prevention of the mutation of cells that causes cancer, as it helps in a healthy form of cell death.

If you are trying to lose weight and maintain your ideal waistline, there is evidence that capsaicin can protect your head and waistline. According to the 2017 review, it has an anti-obesity effect. Similarly, a study found out that eating capsaicin neutralize visceral fat accumulation. This type of fat builds up in the gut and other organs. (click here for more details)

The hot burning and spicy attribute of the capsaicin is a mechanism to fend off hungry mammals that made this plant produce this specific compound. Not only is it used to add spice and kick to some of our foods but also in pepper sprays. According to the European Parliament’s Scientific and Technological Options Assessment report, it has powerful irritant qualities that are more debilitating than tear gas.

Aside from capsaicin, another spicy food irritant is allyl isothiocyanate. It gives a kick to radishes, horseradish, wasabi, mustard, and other cruciferous vegetables. Manufacturers also use them as an ingredient in insecticides and fungicides.

So how do they cause your runny nose? Capsaicin and allyl isothiocyanate irritate mucous membranes, the linings protecting your lungs and various body openings and cavities from infectious agents such as fungi, bacteria, and viruses. The mucous membranes in the nose produce nasal mucus that helps prevent allergens, airborne dirt, dust, and other undesirable particles from entering your respiratory system.  Therefore, the more irritated the nasal membrane becomes, the more mucus being produced.

So the next time you eat capsaicin or allyl isothiocyanate containing foods, be happy that you have a runny nose that makes you protected and safe enjoying what you are eating!