Why does spicy food make your poo burn?

·3-min read
Photo credit: Kemter - Getty Images
Photo credit: Kemter - Getty Images

From Netdoctor

If you’re the type to order Nandos ‘Extra Hot’ – and your heart skips a beat when you hear the word ‘jalapeño’ – you’ll be familiar with torment that follows when your meal makes its way out the other end. A rough ride on the porcelain throne is a price that many of us are willing to pay the morning after a spicy bite, and pay we most certainly do.

The question is: why does spicy food make your poo burn? Believe it or not, your mouth and your anus have far more in common than you might think. We look at why your poo burns after a spicy meal, including the key symptoms, treatments and tips on how to prevent anal pain:

What causes poo to burn after spicy food?

Most spicy foods get their taste from a chemical compound called capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers that ‘correlates to the hotness of a chili on the Scoville scale,’ explains Dr Kevin Barrett, chair of the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology.

The more capsaicin a food contains, the higher it registers on the scale, with the Carolina Reaper – at 2.2 million Scoville heat units (SHU) – and the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (around 2m SHU) among the most potent chilis in the world. For reference, your average jalapeño registers somewhere between 3,000 and 8,000 SHU.

Whenever you eat capsaicin, the chemical binds to a pain receptor called TRPV1, which is the exact same one that alerts your brain when you accidentally burn your hand on a hot stove. It’s found all over your body, including your mouth, digestive tract and – you guessed it – anus.

Spicy poo burn symptoms

When capsaicin binds to TRPV1, it causes sensations of heat and pain and increases the rate that food is passed through the gut. Unfortunately, some capsaicin passes through your gut undigested, ‘and this will have a direct effect on the sensitive skin around the anus,’ Dr Barrett says.

That’s not all. ‘The increased speed of gut activity will reduce the absorption of bile acids,’ he continues, which are critical for digestion and absorption of fats in the small intestine. ‘When bile acids are present in larger than normal quantities in faeces, they will irritate the delicate skin in this area.’ Too much bile acid in your colon also leads to diarrhoea, FYI.

Thankfully, there’s no need to clear out the hot sauce shrine in your kitchen cupboard. In fact, cranking up the heat every now and again is good for you.

‘Eating spicy food has been shown to have many health benefits,’ says Dr Barrett. ‘Chili peppers can be used to help people suffering from chronic pain, can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and may even have anti-cancer properties.’

Spicy poo burn treatment

With spice well and truly on the menu, your main focus should be mediating the after-effects. If you have the foresight, applying a soothing barrier cream to the anus before defecating can help, says Dr Barrett.

‘Wash the area with water and a non-perfumed soap immediately afterwards, before applying more soothing cream,' he says. ‘Topical anaesthetics such as those used to relieve haemorrhoid pain may be used occasionally.’

Spicy poo burn prevention tips

Eventually, your anus will adjust to the ill-effects associated with your Friday night vindaloo. ‘For those unaccustomed to spicy foods, gradually building up tolerance is probably a good idea, together,’ Dr Barrett says.

Incorporating bland foods into the meal, such as bread and yogurt, is a precaution that will provide some relief – just make sure you choose low-fat options.

Increasing fibre and reducing fatty foods eaten at the same time as spicy foods will reduce the production of bile acids that can contribute to a sore anus,’ he adds.

Last updated: 13-02-2020

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