We Figured Out Why Spicy Food Makes You Poop
It’s a shame that some of the best foods have the worst consequences—and by worst consequences we mean the uncontrollable urge to poop your brains out.
Late night tacos, juicy burgers, and greasy pizza are all notorious culprits for the tummy rumbles. But few things will send you sprinting to a toilet faster than spicy food. Whether it’s spicy curry, habanero salsa, or Buffalo wings, your digestive system is far less fond of the hot stuff than your tastebuds.
In the past, we’ve explored how to combat spicy butt—that dreaded sensation of your butthole burning after eating spicy food. But an important question remains unanswered: Why does spicy food make you poop in the first place?
In this article, we explore the science of heat-induced bowel movements and how you can minimize the damage next time you indulge in your favorite spicy dish.
Why Does Spicy Food Make You Poop?
Spicy food makes you poop because your body is trying to evacuate your bowels before it burns your insides. That might sound far-fetched, but it’s true—and it all starts with a pungent ingredient called capsaicin (pronounced "cap-SAY-a-sin").
Capsaicin is what makes foods like peppers taste spicy. However, it can also irritate your entire gastrointestinal tract, from your esophagus to your rectum. That’s because capsaicin activates a protein called vanilloid receptor 1 (also known as TRPV1 or the capsaicin receptor). TRPV1 receptors regulate your body temperature, so when spicy food travels through your gut, the receptors send your intestines into overdrive to cool things down.
Sensing danger, your small intestine quickly pushes the capsaicin through your digestive tract. Under normal circumstances, digestion slows down when food reaches the colon where it becomes solid poop over time. However, eating spicy food is like pressing fast-forward on your digestive process, so you feel the urge to poo ASAP. And since your colon doesn’t have enough time to absorb water, you could end up with loose stool or diarrhea after polishing off that Kung Pao chicken.
While all of this is happening, your brain releases endorphins to dull the burning sensation on your insides. But those endorphins also make you feel happy, which is why the more spicy food you eat, the more you crave it. It’s a vicious cycle where your butt is always the victim.
What Types of Spicy Foods Trigger Bowel Movements?
Any foods that are high in capsaicin can have a laxative effect. There are trace amounts of capsaicin in foods like cinnamon, cilantro, and oregano. But its effects are most powerful in these foods:
- Chili peppers
- Spicy wings
- Hot sauce
- Cayenne peppers
Fun fact: the hottest pepper in the world is the Carolina Reaper, which clocks in at 2,009,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). For reference, Tabasco sauce has around 30,000 SHU. Needless to say, you’d probably do more damage to your mouth than your butt with this one.
If you can handle the heat, eating capsaicin-rich foods is generally harmless. In fact, they even have some health benefits. However, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may experience issues like gas, bloating, upset stomach, or diarrhea after eating spicy food.
How to Minimize the Damage from Spicy Food
Word to the wise: If you’re entering a high-stakes situation like a first date or a job interview, steer clear of hot foods for 24 hours. The last thing you need is a five-alarm fire in your gut while you’re trying to make small talk.
Now that we got that out of the way, here are a few tips to douse the flames:
- Pair your spicy food with dairy products to neutralize the capsaicin in your mouth. Contrary to popular belief, ice water doesn’t do much since the issue isn’t about temperature—it’s a chemical reaction. Go for a glass of milk or a bowl of ice cream instead.
- Eat something sweet along with your spicy meal. Sugars also neutralize heat in your mouth.
- Take some Pepto-Bismol to get ahead of diarrhea, indigestion, heartburn, and stomach aches before they wreak havoc. It’s kind of like hydrating before a long night of drinking.
- Locate the nearest bathroom.
Prepare for the Aftermath
Remember those TRPV1 pain receptors we mentioned earlier? You have a bunch of those in your anus. Accordingly, if your meal feels spicy going in, it’ll feel spicy coming out the other end too. Burning poop is Mother Nature’s cruel punishment for enjoying a burrito smothered in salsa.
Fortunately, there’s hope.
The best defense against a burning butthole is a flushable wet wipe, ideally one that’s infused with aloe and Vitamin E to sooth your sensitive sides. In a perfect world, DUDE Wipes would be stocked in hot sauce aisles across the nation to protect folks like you. Until then, you can grab a pack here.