Capsaicin gives hot peppers their fiery taste, and the hotter the pepper, the higher the capsaicin content. If you’ve just eaten spicy food, and your mouth is on fire, how long does it take for the burning to subside?
It takes about 20 minutes for capsaicin to wear off after eating it. After 20 minutes, the capsaicin loses its effect on the body’s pain receptors and is neutralized. However, you may still experience abdominal complaints as it passes through your digestive tract.
Read further to discover what happens in your body after consuming capsaicin and what you can do to get rid of the burning sensation faster.
What Happens In Your Body When You Consume Capsaicin?
I’ve explained that it can take about 20 minutes for the burning in your mouth and throat to wear off after eating foods with capsaicin. But what’s the science behind this, and what happens in your body?
When you consume capsaicin, it activates the pain and heat receptors in your mouth and throat, making you feel like you’ve been burned. It also causes your body to release stress hormones, the reason your skin goes red and your eyes water.
I’ll discuss this in more detail below:
Capsaicin Activates the Body’s Pain and Heat Receptors
A few seconds after entering your mouth, the capsaicin in your spicy food activates the pain and heat receptors in your mouth and the back of your throat. These receptors are called TRPV1 receptors and are calcium channel proteins located in the body’s membranes that tell your brain that you’re in pain when you sense something hot.
The same receptors are activated when you touch something hot or get burned.
TRPV1 receptors are always closed as long as your body temperature is normal. However, when they bond with capsaicin, they open and drop their threshold temperature, the reason capsaicin makes it feel like your mouth is on fire.
Once the TRPV1 receptors and capsaicin molecules have bonded, your brain thinks you have been burned, and the burning sensation will linger in your mouth until the capsaicin becomes neutralized.
As the capsaicin travels through your digestive tract, it can irritate the following body parts:
- The lining of the esophagus
- The small and large intestine
The capsaicin can give you heartburn or exacerbate your symptoms if you have acid reflux. If you have a sensitive stomach and are prone to gastritis or stomach ulcers, the capsaicin can cause further irritation and could make you vomit.
If you’ve eaten a lot of capsaicin, it could also cause diarrhea when it passes through your large intestine.
Capsaicin Causes the Body To Release Stress Hormones
Another chemical reaction occurring in the body after you consume capsaicin is stress hormone release. Since your brain believes that you’ve been burned, it goes into “fight-or-flight” mode and immediately releases the following stress hormones:
- Epinephrine (or adrenaline)
- Norepinephrine (or noradrenaline)
These stress hormones can produce the following symptoms:
- Feeling jittery or energetic
- Skin redness
- Rapid heartbeat
- Fast breathing rate
- Watery or teary eyes
- Increased gastric acid secretion
- Runny nose
- Skin sensitivity due to nerve ending stimulation
- Increased metabolism
Thankfully, the fight-or-flight response is short-lived and lasts only about 20 minutes.
Can I Get Rid of the Burning Feeling Faster?
If you don’t usually eat spicy foods and you’ve just consumed a hot dish, you’re probably suffering and wondering if there’s anything you can do to stop the burning. Can you get rid of the burning feeling faster?
You can get rid of the burning feeling faster by consuming any products that can neutralize or mask the effects of capsaicin, such as dairy, acids, high levels of sugar, alcohol, or a fast-acting pain-killing ingredient.
I’ll explain below why these products are so effective.
Consume a Dairy Product
Ask anyone who’s been eating spicy foods for many years, and they’ll tell you that dairy products can help reduce the burning feeling in your mouth.
Dairy products are rich in casein, a protein that gradually destroys capsaicin molecules. After consuming a dairy product, the casein surrounds the capsaicin molecules and quickly renders them ineffective.
When eating a hot curry, having some plain Greek yogurt on the side can help relieve the burning and act as a palate cleanser between bites. Sour cream is a popular side dish with Mexican food, so look for some if you’re eating spicy tacos or tortillas.
If you’ve finished your spicy meal and want the burning in your mouth to stop, why not have a dairy-based dessert? Some examples include:
- A glass of chocolate milk or milkshake
- Ice cream
- Flavored yogurt
- Frozen yogurt
Consume an Acidic Product
Capsaicin is an oily alkaline substance that becomes unstable and neutralized when it comes into contact with acids.
If you want to speed up the recovery process after eating something incredibly spicy, consuming an acidic product is effective.
Apple cider vinegar is an excellent choice, but you may not appreciate the taste. Thankfully, there are some other, more palatable acidic products you could try:
- Orange juice
- Berries or citrus fruit
- Tomatoes or tomato juice
Drinking a cold, acidic beverage such as orange juice will quickly remedy the fiery feeling in your mouth, and it’s cold temperature can help ease the burning sensation.
Avoid drinking water as it can make the burning feeling worse because it encourages the capsaicinoids to bind with the pain receptors in your mouth. Ice cold water temporarily relieves the fiery sensation, but you’ll feel worse once the numbing has worn off.
Consume a Sugary Product
Foods high in sugar contain a lot of glucose, which is an effective capsaicin molecule absorber. The glucose molecules are larger than capsaicinoids and easily surround them, causing them to become ineffective.
Here are some excellent examples of sugary products you could consume to make the burning feeling in your mouth disappear:
- Non-diet soda
- Fruit juice
- A spoonful of honey or maple syrup
- Some caramel or chocolate sauce
The ethanol in alcohol is great at destroying capsaicin molecules quickly. If you have a glass of high-proof alcohol close by, take a sip. However, before swallowing the alcohol, swish it around your mouth to try and target the capsaicin molecules.
If you don’t have alcohol, mouthwash with alcohol can also work.
Take a Fast-Acting Painkiller
Capsaicin burning in your mouth can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re not used to it. If you can’t bear the pain any longer, consider taking a fast-acting painkiller.
Regular over-the-counter painkillers (like ibuprofen or acetaminophen) take around half an hour to work. Taking one would be useless as the burning sensation will have significantly subsided by then.
Fast-acting painkillers, however, can relieve the pain in about ten minutes. Look for one with tiny, drilled holes or with caffeine as an active ingredient, which speeds up absorption in the stomach.
It takes about 20 minutes for capsaicin to wear off unless you neutralize its effect sooner by:
- Consuming a dairy product
- Consuming a sugary substance
- Using alcohol
- Taking a fast-acting painkiller
Capsaicin causes a burning sensation in your mouth or throat because it activates the body’s pain and heat receptors, making your brain think that you’re in pain. It also activates the fight-or-flight mechanism and can make you feel jittery, sweaty, or have red skin.
- National Library of Medicine: TRPV1 Receptors and Signal Transduction
- ScienceDirect: Calcium Channel – an overview
- Cleveland Clinic: What Happens to Your Body During the Fight or Flight Response?
- WebMD: Casein Protein: Overview, Uses, Side Effects, Precautions …
- ScienceDirect: Ethanol – an overview
- Slate: What happens when we eat spicy food?