Spice tolerance: Is it nature or nurture?


Have you ever wondered why some people can’t seem to get enough spicy food, and others seemingly overreact to even the slightest hint of spice?

Is it because of nature or nurture? Is learning to love spicy food something you’re born with, or is it something you acquire over time, with repeated exposure? According to researchers, it’s a bit of both. While you can build up your tolerance over time, there’s also something to be said about genetics. To understand both theories, you must first understand what’s in chili peppers, specifically capsaicin.

That’s the active component behind the burning sensation you sometimes feel when you eat an extremely hot pepper.

When capsaicin comes into contact with your hands, face, mouth, and tongue, it causes an irritation that sometimes feels like a burn. Your brain thinks something really is hot, and you react. Scientists theorize that perhaps people who have fewer TRPV1 pain receptors are less sensitive to the burn than those with more receptors. In the past, researchers have found there is at least some genetic explanation in relation to the enjoyment of spicy food and spice tolerance. On the other hand, if your tolerance is low, researchers also say it’s not too late. It’s actually possible to increase your spice tolerance over time, and you can do it yourself.

By repeatedly exposing yourself to capsaicin, you may be able to decrease the transmission of pain over time by desensitizing your nerve endings.

To make sure your spice tolerance doesn’t decrease again in the future, you must keep eating spicy food, and eat it often. You don’t want to go overboard on the hot pepper scale in the beginning, though. Instead, try to introduce small amounts of spicy food over a period of time. Eventually, you may come to enjoy it and crave it.  

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