taste buds, pain in hands

A reader wrote to us recently asking whether it is true that eating hot peppers can dull the taste buds. As pepper lovers ourselves, we found the question compelling. Scientists have not focused much research on answering it, however. We did find a rat study, and another reader objected to our conclusions.

Little Kids Eating Hot Peppers:

Q. I read your article suggesting that hot peppers could dull taste buds over time. I heartily disagree. Since I am originally from Mexico, I have been eating hot chili peppers since I was 5 years old (and I mean HOT peppers). I am 73 now, and my taste buds are not affected at all.

How did the rats (young or adult) inform the researchers if their taste buds were affected?

How the Study Was Done:

A. What a great question! The scientists actually noted the number of taste buds rather than their sensitivity (Omelian et al, Chemosensory Perception, Sep. 2016). The baby rats grew up to have fewer taste buds if they were exposed to capsaicin, which is what makes chili peppers hot.

Do Pepper Lovers Live Longer?

Research suggests that people who eat hot peppers regularly may live longer than people who prefer bland food (PLOS One, Jan. 9, 2017). This research was conducted in the United States. Previous research showed that Chinese people who challenge their taste buds with hot peppers also live longer (Lv et al, BMJ, Aug. 4, 2015). In particular, pepper lovers appear less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease or cancer.

People who would like to learn more about the health benefits of chili peppers may want to read our latest book, Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your LifeBesides hot peppers, you’ll learn about the health benefits of cinnamon, mint, rosemary, turmeric and other popular spices.

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  1. alan

    i eat spicy food all the time & the only thing i’ve noticed is a blandness in mama’s cooking. of course, mama taste buds say that salt &/or black pepper is super hot!

  2. Larry
    Raleigh, NC

    Hot peppers don’t seem to damage taste sensitivity, but they will certainly deafen you for a few hours if eaten in quantity.

  3. Donna
    North Carolina

    My dad loved eating hot, spicy food. He grew hot peppers in his garden and ate them almost daily. In the last 10 or so years of his life (he lived to be 84) he started complaining that food didn’t have as much taste anymore and it got worse the last couple of years. We would joke with him that he burnt off his taste buds with hot peppers so maybe it can happen.

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