NOV 01, 2017 3:22 PM PDT

Caliente! It's Your Brain that Can't Take the Heat

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Spicy foods are notorious for leaving an exquisite burning sensation in our mouths. But why do our mouths feel like it's engulfed in flames even if these foods are not physically giving off heat?

The painful burning sensation associated with spicy foods is due to the capsaicin molecules that are most concentrated in the seeds of peppers. We can't actually taste the capsaicin; rather we feel them on our tongues, which are lined with receptors called TRPV1 that activate in the presence of capsaicin.

Once bound to TRPV1 receptors, capsaicin triggers signals in the brain can make it feel as though your mouth is on fire. The same signals can be elicited by these receptors in the presence of physical heat, hence why the resulting sensations from eating hot peppers is often described as a burn. Also, have you ever touched your eyes after cutting a pepper? You feel that same burning sensation because the TRVP1 receptors exist elsewhere on the body, which is why you should always wash your hands after handling hot peppers!
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
NOV 12, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Can a Chemical Be Both Nurturing and Destructive?
NOV 12, 2020
Can a Chemical Be Both Nurturing and Destructive?
On August 4, a megascale explosion almost leveled half of Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon. At the center of the negl ...
JAN 19, 2021
Immunology
How Breastfeeding improves Infants Immunity?
JAN 19, 2021
How Breastfeeding improves Infants Immunity?
Breastfeeding benefits are well known for ages, and it has many positive impacts on infant's lives that continue wit ...
FEB 24, 2021
Plants & Animals
Texas Freeze Caused Historic Sea Turtle Stranding Event
FEB 24, 2021
Texas Freeze Caused Historic Sea Turtle Stranding Event
In addition to the millions of humans who suffered through Texas' historic freeze last week, local wildlife also exp ...
MAR 18, 2021
Space & Astronomy
There May Be More Water-Rich Planets than Previously Thought
MAR 18, 2021
There May Be More Water-Rich Planets than Previously Thought
Researchers have hypothesized that a certain mechanism may mean there are many more water-rich planets with atmospheres ...
APR 07, 2021
Plants & Animals
Scientists Discover a Crab-Dissolving Parasite
APR 07, 2021
Scientists Discover a Crab-Dissolving Parasite
Parasites abound throughout the natural world. While not all of them cause the host's death, this newly discovered p ...
JUN 24, 2021
Space & Astronomy
European Space Agency to Launch Satellite Made from Plywood
JUN 24, 2021
European Space Agency to Launch Satellite Made from Plywood
Modern spacecraft are typically made out of carbon fiber composites. Now, however, the European Space Agency has announc ...
Loading Comments...