Thursday, January 25, 2007
There's more to hot sauce than just heat
A little restaurant I know in Silver City, New Mexico, serves the best enchiladas ever: stacked blue tortillas, smothered in fresh green chilies and cheese. They're so hot they make my husband's bald spot sweat! I literally cry when I eat them, but my tears are tears of joy. For me, the hotter the better! So when I read about a diet that helped a doctor lose 70 pounds by just sipping on hot sauce, it got my attention.
Dr. Spiro Antoniades, an orthopedic surgeon from Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, came up with the idea to down a shot of hot sauce every time he got a craving for something unhealthy, like doughnuts or cookies. After a while, he had punished himself to the point that those goodies just didn't seem very appetizing anymore. And guess what? His plan worked. Antoniades slimmed down in less than a year. Today he's a health nut, runs every day and watches his food intake, all because of a little bottle of heat. So many of his colleagues asked about the diet that he's actually published a book. There's no science to it. It's really simple behavior modification.
But that doesn't mean that scientists aren't interested in hot sauce. It's really the chilies, which are the main ingredient in the sauce. Researchers are finding that capsaicin, the compound that gives chili and cayenne their zing, has a lot of health benefits. For centuries, folk medicine practitioners used capsaicin to aid digestion, fight infection and stimulate the kidneys, lungs and heart. Capsaicin has even been put into topical creams that soothe sore muscles and joints. Now researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Public Health are looking at capsaicin's ability to mimic the type of pain you experience when you have arthritis. Researchers theorize that if doctors treat the pain that capsaicin causes in your mouth, they can treat the pain that arthritis causes. And, theoretically, the painkillers would be natural, with few side effects. And they would actually go directly to the pain, and alleviate the discomfort longer.
But be careful. Capsaicin can also be harmful. Take a lot of it, and you can actually send your body into shock. Research on capsaicin's bad side is still in the early stages, but scientists have found that it can cause some tough side effects: abnormal blood clotting, blistering of the skin and severe diarrhea. Long-term use can lead to kidney and liver damage, so go easy.
Has hot sauce ever helped or hurt your health? Let me know.
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