The morning after a spicy dinner can be, well, infernal. You know you love sriracha sauce, buffalo wings, jalapeno poppers, cajun shrimp and Szechuan chicken… but when those spices are on their way out, you probably wish they wouldn’t hurt so much!
The heat-producing compounds in spicy food don’t change much as they move through your digestive system. Your body doesn’t absorb them since they aren’t nutrients – meaning that they are expelled, their spiciness still relatively intact.
Luigi Basso, MD, of Sapienza University of Rome, says, “… since the last part of your anal region—your rectum and anus—is lined by cells similar to those in your mouth, spicy foods can burn just as much on the way out as on the way in.”
Everyone is affected to some degree, but it’s especially painful for people who suffer from hemorrhoids or irritable bowel syndrome.
Does this mean you have to give up spicy foods? No!
How to keep spicy food from burning on the way out
- Adjust your menu
Limit foods that combine heat (hot spices) and fat. The bile salts used to digest fats can irritate the skin of your anus, according to Brooks Cash, MD, of the University of South Alabama. Chicken wings, quesadillas, or cheese-stuffed jalapeno poppers are three culprits.
If you really don’t want to give up those Friday night wings, take a fiber supplement such as psyllium right before or immediately after you eat, to absorb some of the fatty acids. Metamucil is one fiber supplement that contains psyllium, and probiotics will help your gut health as well.
- Practice great hygiene
Keeping your anal area clean and dry helps soothe any itching or burning. Once clean, apply a cooling calamine lotion (the stuff used to relieve the intense itch of poison ivy and other rashes). If your anal region still burns long after you’ve pooped, see your doctor. This can signal infection, abscess, fissures, other other very serious problems like cancer.
- Eat hot chilies for 3 weeks
It’s counter-intuitive, but surprisingly, it works! This is the best strategy if you absolutely won’t give up spicy foods, no matter how much they make your life hell after the fact. According to Sutep Gonlachanvit, MD, gastroenterology chief at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, eating spicy foods infrequently causes “rectal hypersensitivity,” or the burning pain and an intense and frequent urge to poop. However, continuously eating spicy foods for 3 weeks or longer helps to desensitize the area, which will significantly reduce the burning.
In Dr. Gonlachanvit’s studies, people who ate 2.1g of hot pepper daily (about 1.25t of cayenne) for 3 weeks experienced desensitization of their rectum.
Yes, you have to put up with some pretty intense pain for a few days or weeks, but it’s a permanent change that will allow you to enjoy the spiciest foods with impunity. Also, as you go through this “spicy bootcamp” your pain receptors will adjust and the burning will lessen every day so it’s really the first week or so that’s very uncomfortable – and then after 3 weeks, you can indulge in spicy foods all you want with no discomfort or pain!