Some like it hot. And I’m not talking about the Marilyn Monroe movie with the famous dress scene. Many people love the taste of hot peppers (do you remember when all those people tried the Devil’s lollipop?). It all seems fun and hot until someone ends up in the hospital.
Meet patient A (who’s name was not published) a 34-year-old man who found himself at Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, N.Y. after experiencing a thunderclap headache. After eating a whole Carolina Reaper, the hottest pepper in the world in a hot-pepper competition, the patient immediately started to dry heave. This wasn’t concerning because dry heaving is a normal from eating hot peppers.
What was disconcerting were the massive, felt-like-you-were run-over-by-a-truck headaches that came on over the next few days.
When he arrived at the hospital scans of his head and neck indicated a constriction in some arteries that could cause intense headaches. Dr. Kulothungan Gunasekaran, one of the authors of the BMJ Case Report suggests “that for some reason the man must have been particularly sensitive to capsaicin.”
Capsaicin, the chemical responsible for making peppers spicy, is known for constricting blood vessels. The chemical is even used in some topical medications to relief pains in muscles due to arthritis. Capsaicin is one of the main ingredients in personal safety pepper sprays.
After studying the scans, the patient was diagnosed with reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome which was brought on by a capsaicin sensitivity. This syndrome is usually associated with drugs like cocaine and amphetamines and some cases can become life threatening.
“This is the first time that pepper has been related to RCVS,” Gunasekaran said. “Capsaicin, the key ingredient in the pepper, is a vasoactive substance, so it could potentially narrow the blood vessels to the most important organs like the heart and brain.”