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Can the Hottest Peppers In the World Kill You? 337

Posted by samzenpus
from the dead-man's-chili dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Katharine Gammon writes that last week, the Kismot Indian restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland, held a competition to eat the extra-hot Kismot Killer curry and several ambulances were called after some of the competitive eaters were left writhing on the floor in agony, vomiting and fainting. Paul Bosland, professor of horticulture at New Mexico State University and director of the Chile Pepper Institute, says that chili peppers can indeed cause death — but most people's bodies would falter long before they reached that point. 'Theoretically, one could eat enough really hot chiles to kill you,' says Bosland adding that a research study in 1980 calculated that three pounds of the hottest peppers in the world — something like the Bhut Jolokia — eaten all at once could kill a 150-pound person. Chili peppers cause the eater's insides to rev up, activating the sympathetic nervous system — which helps control most of the body's internal organs — to expend more energy, so the body burns more calories when the same food is eaten with chili peppers. But tissue inflammation could explain why the contestants in the Killer Curry contest said they felt like chainsaws were ripping through their insides. As for the contest, restaurant owner Abdul Ali admitted the fiery dish may have been too spicy after the Scottish Ambulance Service warned him to review his event. 'I think we'll tone it down, but we'll definitely do it next year.'"
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Can the Hottest Peppers In the World Kill You?

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  • by davidwr (791652) on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:17AM (#37739470) Homepage Journal

    It may take more than 3 pounds, but if you drink enough water fast enough you get water toxicity.

    In other words, this is "not news."

    • by j-stroy (640921)
      Inhaling just a few tablespoons of fresh water can kill you. Salt water can be tolerated tho due to its salinity(isotonic).
      • I think we need some proof here. You should record yourself inhaling a few tablespoons of salt water and post the video to YouTube.

    • 3 Pounds of chillies dropped from a hight exceeding 250m...

    • by rssrss (686344) on Monday October 17, 2011 @01:48PM (#37741738)

      Not if you are eating the peppers in curry. Curry has lots of salt. Water kills by draining the sodium out of your body.

      However, if you are having chili mouth problems, the antidote is fat not water. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili is an oil. Eat butter, drink oil, a high butterfat ice cream might work also.

    • by olddoc (152678) on Monday October 17, 2011 @03:08PM (#37742668)
      Oxygen is good for people at 21% concentration. At 100% it causes toxic effects in the body especially in the lungs. Prolonged breathing of 100% Oxygen would be fatal. 100% Oxygen at pressures above atmospheric can rapidly kill technical Scuba divers. So just like DiHydrogen Monoxide is a potentially fatal chemical so is Oxygen. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxygen_toxicity [wikipedia.org]
  • I know if I eat enough scotch bonnets I start to get a sort of tingling sensation in my fingers. Makes sense that if you ramp it up enough it would kill someone.

    • by Tsingi (870990) <graham@rick.gmail@com> on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:35AM (#37739748)
      It's always been a mystery to me why I can eat and enjoy something so toxic that I have to wear rubber gloves to prepare them.
      • Re:I'd believe it... (Score:5, Informative)

        by JohnBailey (1092697) on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:54AM (#37740066)

        It's always been a mystery to me why I can eat and enjoy something so toxic that I have to wear rubber gloves to prepare them.

        Endorphins.
        Mystery solved.
        The chemical that causes the heat sensation also triggers endorphins. So pleasure is experienced.

        Toxic?.. Not sure about that. Irritant definitely. The juice on your fingers can lead to unpleasant side effects, depending where you touch.. But hardly deadly, unless you are eating some kind of concentrated industrial strength chilli. And realistically.. The super hot chills are not really intended for direct human consumption.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by adeft (1805910)
        Define enjoy..... Mostly ridiculously hot eating is part of a bunch of guys trying to prove they're as tough as each other :) That's why I do it, and will do it again. Enjoy it? Not really.
      • by vlm (69642)

        It's always been a mystery to me why I can eat and enjoy something so toxic that I have to wear rubber gloves to prepare them.

        Think of raw salmonella dipped chicken before you grill or fry it. Practically any raw meat, for that matter, including fish.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          What is wrong with raw fish? Or most other meat for that matter?

          I have eaten lots of raw fish served on little pillows of rice and even more rare/medium rare meats.

          • What is wrong with raw fish? Or most other meat for that matter?

            Parasites. Tape worms from beef, trichinosis from pork, and I'm sure there are others.

      • by Anrego (830717) *

        It's a cheap high ;p

        Peppers cause pain, brain releases natural pain killers.. gives you that mellowed out relaxed feeling that is always strangely contradictory.

        Eating peppers slightly beyond your tolerance where you still enjoy the food but get just the right amount of burn is highly enjoyable. Eating peppers way beyond your tolerance serves no purpose beyond being able to say you did it (which I'll admit I'm guilty of on occasion).

      • I never wear rubber gloves when preparing really hot chilies but always remember to wash your hands before going to pee. I spent 30 minutes curled up on the floor in the fetal position once after cutting up some bhut jolokias for chile once. It doesn't affect my hands but they are really callused but more sensitive skin is a different story.
  • LD50? (Score:5, Informative)

    by drosboro (1046516) on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:22AM (#37739552)

    According to it's MSDS, capsaicin has an LD50 (lethal dose to 50% of pop'n) of 47.2 mg/kg when taken orally. So, for a 70kg person, 3.2 grams of pure capsaicin should be lethal about 50% of the time... This isn't anything new, the data has been published for a long time.

    • by blackicye (760472)

      I'm willing to wager that they used pure capsaicin crystals to spike the curry, and not just Bhut Jolokias.

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      Technically, it's that if you randomly selected a person from the population at large and gave them 47.2 mg/kg body weight of capsaicin, it would have a 50% chance of killing them.

  • I am obviously missing something here...
    a) there are _lots_ of things you can eat to kill yourself.
    b) what is the point of this "research"?
  • by starmonkey (2486412) on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:30AM (#37739664)
    eating them is only half the battle
  • Well I know that they may induce hallucinations of Johnny Cash telling you to find your soul mate.

  • by drainbramage (588291) on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:33AM (#37739712)

    Slowly saps your will to live.
    -
    Or leaves horrible scars that you can pick at later.

  • by decipher_saint (72686) on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:36AM (#37739772) Homepage

    Given a sufficient quantity dropped on you or were fired at you at extreme velocity.

    Sadly the chili pepper gun is a long way from becoming useful enough for pithy action movie hero comments "What's th' matter? Heartburn?"

  • I understand the "look how tough I am, I can eat this spicy stuff" mentality to some extent, but who seriously takes it to the extreme of downing things that eat holes in your stomach and cause you to be hospitalized?

    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:40AM (#37739848)

      Some people actually enjoy spicy food, it is not about toughness at all. Peppers will not eat a hole in your stomach, that is an old wives tale. Capsaicin just interacts with your sensory neurons and makes them respond as though they were being burned, no real damage is done.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The endorphin rush can be quite something to experience too.

    • It doesn't eat holes. Contrary to popular belief, capsacin is not an acid or something that damages tissue at all. It stimulates your pain receptors directly and causes a kind of simulated pain. Personally, as an addicted person, I can tell you that you need your food just a little hotter each time to keep getting the endorphine rush, which is why people get to the point of eating jolokia peppers, imo.
      • It does affect your colon in some way though, because having a truly solid movement is rare if you put chili sauce on everything (or at least, very hot chilis like red savinas or jolokias).

        It is true about the thrill chase though. Jalapenos used to be hot to me when I was a kid. Now, to get any sort of mild reaction I will need at least Habaneros, preferably red savina, or bhut jolokia. I usually cut some fresh jolokia into my curries, and I use a red savina sauce on my pasta/pizza lunch food.
        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Anything other than anecdotes to back that up?
          My first guess would be you consume more liquids or fats when eating hot foods and that is what is causing your issues.

        • If you have an allergy to nightshades (pretty dang common), you're probably getting mucous production in the small intestines.
  • by CrazyBusError (530694) on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:44AM (#37739908) Homepage
    Before anything else - this is my favourite local Indian Restaurant. Been eating there for a few years now and will continue to do so.

    Secondly, 'several ambulances'? People 'writhing on the floor, fainting and vomiting'? Here's what actually happened:

    Restaurant holds a curry-eating competition. Top of the list in the later rounds is the 'Kismot Killer', a curry that recently replaced a naga-based one, as too many people were finishing it easily. Anyway, if you order a killer, the restaurant staff will do everything in their power to put you off - there's warnings all over the place and you have to sign a disclaimer before eating it. If you *really* insist on eating the damn thing, you can't say you weren't warned. But anyway. So two people get to the later stages (one American, FWIW) and one of them has the bright idea of vomiting immediately after eating so as to avoid the after-effects. The other continues eating *despite being in pain and feeling faint*. I mean, seriously? So despite having the red cross present (it was a charity event), they got an ambulance to take these two to hospital for safety. The hospital gave them strong anti-indigestion medication and kicked them out.

    Short version - idiots did idiotic things, complained that they shouldn't have to have any personal responsibility when the inevitable happened.
    • This was my reaction to this story too. Furthermore, they should be charged for their time in the hospital, because it was idiotic, informed, and self inflicted.
      • by vlm (69642)

        Furthermore, they should be charged for their time in the hospital, because it was idiotic, informed, and self inflicted.

        Theres a dangerous road to go down, since that could be 3/4 of the people hospitalized, at least to some interpretation of idiotic, informed, and self inflicted.

    • by garcia (6573)

      I participated in a contest where we were given wings made with a very hot bhut jolokia sauce (included habaneros and dried jolokias as well as other stuff). I had eaten 10 of the wings before in one sitting and while I had mild discomfort (and slightly more the next day) I had no serious side internal/external effects.

      However, when I ate 20 in one sitting (in 10 minutes) I went home and hours later found myself writhing in pain, having severe abdominal discomfort and thought about heading to the ER on more

    • by Incadenza (560402)

      Secondly, 'several ambulances'? People 'writhing on the floor, fainting and vomiting'? Here's what actually happened:

      Indeed, I read TFA, and what a load of wasted words. The only reference to the actual event in the article is:

      According to reports [dailymail.co.uk], two British Red Cross workers overseeing the event at the Kismot Indian restaurant in Edinburgh but became overwhelmed by the number of casualties and ambulances were called. Half of the 20 people who took part in the challenge dropped out after witnessing the

  • by Splab (574204) on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:45AM (#37739930)

    While the method of dying described sounds nice n all, I thought the actual danger was from asphyxiation when digesting Bhut Jolokia ( I grow those suckers myself); when strong enough chili has been digested it will often cause uncontrollable hiccups (capsacin will irritate the thingiemagic that does your breathing, causing it to cramp, which I've been told, could be enough to kill you).
    The lethal dose is whats required to overload your system and die from poison (sort of like drinking too much water?) and the lack of oxygen is akin to trying to breath water or have I've just had me leg pulled?

    • by sapgau (413511) on Monday October 17, 2011 @11:57AM (#37740110) Journal

      I don't know about Indian cuisine but in Mexico we don't brag about how impossibly hot a dish is.
      Chile is used as an additional condiment and is never the main focus of the meal... Mexicans know when something needs to be spiced up to make it taste better, enough to make you salivate just by smelling it and make it perfect. That hot spicy sensation is addictive and a good source of endorphins... It is never a goal to make it impossible to swallow, give you cramps and make you faint.

      Pinches gringos locos....

      • by asliarun (636603) on Monday October 17, 2011 @01:05PM (#37741102)

        I don't know about Indian cuisine but in Mexico we don't brag about how impossibly hot a dish is.
        Chile is used as an additional condiment and is never the main focus of the meal... Mexicans know when something needs to be spiced up to make it taste better, enough to make you salivate just by smelling it and make it perfect. That hot spicy sensation is addictive and a good source of endorphins... It is never a goal to make it impossible to swallow, give you cramps and make you faint.

        Pinches gringos locos....

        Indians don't brag about the heat levels of their food as well. I would like to dispel some myths about Indian food here:

        - Firstly, there is nothing called Indian food. India is an agglomeration of about 50-100 or so cultures, a bit like Europe. Each culture has its own history, language or dialect, culture, and most importantly, food. While culture has changed or diluted over time, food habits have not changed much. Anyone who talks about "Indian curry" is as incorrect as someone who talks about "European soup".

        - Indian food by and large is not super-spicy to begin with. Home cooked food in India is usually mild and often a bit overcooked. Yes, certain cuisines such as Kolhapuri or Sahuji is known for being hotter. Even then, this is usually hype promoted by restaurants as a publicity stunt. While restaurants often label their dish "kolhapuri chicken" by adding 5 extra red chiles, authentic Kolhapuri food is not cooked this way

        - Indian food, unlike many other cuisines, is very flavorful and aromatic and a typical dish will consist of numerous spices and herbs. Perhaps, this is because India is the birthplace of most herbs and spices (maybe not most, South America kicks ass too). Indian flavor is usually multi-dimensional and layered - heat is just one component. A really well made Indian dish (such as a "curry") will usually be hot, sour, salty, and a bit sweet at the same time. Mostly not bitter, but sometimes bitter too, especially in dishes such as bitter gourd curry. Bottom-line - spicy does not mean hot, it means full of spice, and each spice has a different flavor and aroma. This is the whole point of mixing multiple spices, or using pre-mixed spices ("garam masala", "panch phoran", etc.)

        - Chile is also often an extra condiment in Indian cuisine as well - a typical Indian dish will consist of plain rice or wheat bread with a somewhat mild curry, a slightly spicier dry vegetable or meat, salad ("kachumbar") or yogurt based sauce to provide relief for the spice ("raita"). It is also usually accompanied by one or more chutneys that can range from fiery hot to minty cool, and by one or more pickles again ranging from fiery hot to sweet and tangy. The chutneys and pickles are meant to provide additional heat for people who like more heat in their food. There are several dozens, even hundreds, of pickles and chutneys. Note that Indian pickles are much more complex and flavourful compared to pickle popular in many other parts which is usually made with vegetables preserved in vinegar and salt. Indian pickles are usually pickled in a variety of oils.

        - This whole thing of eating really hot food is really just a sport, the need for some people to turn anything into a competitive sport. Then, there are hotels like this one cashing in on this whole thing to get more publicity.

        - With all due respect, Mexican food is delicious and very fresh and complex, but you cannot compare it with a country where you have hundreds of parallel food cultures all running back several thousands of years. You can probably compare Mexico to a specific Indian state, but that's about it. Comparing India to South America would be more accurate.

        Before this becomes a flame war, please note: I'm not trying to put down down Mexico or say that India is better or worse. Just saying that the complexity of Mexican culture and food is comparable to the complexity of the culture and food of an Indian state - in terms of population, size, history, and complexity

        • by rahvin112 (446269)

          - With all due respect, Mexican food is delicious and very fresh and complex, but you cannot compare it with a country where you have hundreds of parallel food cultures all running back several thousands of years. You can probably compare Mexico to a specific Indian state, but that's about it. Comparing India to South America would be more accurate.

          While you are up on that pedestal lecturing everyone about making assumptions about "Indian" food maybe you shouldn't be making assumptions about "Mexican" food.

        • Hmm... you say there is no such thing as "Indian food," then you go on to use that exact phrase two more times.

    • I have seen the hiccup effect on others but to this day I have never experienced it myself, despite consuming the same food as aforementioned.
  • I've never understood the attraction of eating chillies. It hurts (or is that just me?) so whats pleasant about it? Or is it just macho i-can-eat-more-than-you BS? Is it the same sort of people who do it who visit S&M dungeons because they like the pain?

    • Your mouth does get desensitized if you eat it frequently enough. I like really spicy food if it has a good flavor (best dish I ever had at a restaurant was chicken tikka tikka extra spicy when I was in Pune, India) but when they do stuff like going for the pure hotness I don't get that. When I was in college everyone always wanted me to eat a blazing wing (the hottest they had at the time) at Buffalo Wild Wings, for me they aren't all that spicy but they tasted awful and I would always get better tasting
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 17, 2011 @12:08PM (#37740280)

    For those of you who have lived in Texas, you know how true this is. They actually have a Chili cook-off about the time the rodeo comes to town. It takes up a major portion of the parking lot at the Astrodome.The notes are from an inexperienced chili taster named Frank, who was visiting Texas from the East Coast:
    "Recently, I was honored to be selected as a judge at a chili cook-off. The original person called in sick at the last moment and I happened to be standing there at the judge's table asking directions to the Budweiser truck, when the call came in. I was assured by the other two judges (Native Texans) that the chili wouldn't be all that spicy and, besides, They told me I could have free beer during the tasting, So I accepted."Here are the scorecards from the event:
    Chili # 1 Mike's Maniac Mobster Monster Chili
    Judge # 1-- A little too heavy on the tomato. Amusing kick.
    Judge # 2-- Nice, smooth tomato flavor. Very mild
    Judge # 3-- (Frank) Holy shit, what the hell is this stuff? You could remove dried paint from your driveway. Took me
    two beers to put the flames out. I hope that's the worst one. These Texans are crazy.
    Chili # 2 Arthur's Afterburner Chili
    Judge # 1 -- Smoky, with a hint of pork. Slight jalapeno tang.
    Judge # 2 -- Exciting BBQ flavor, needs more peppers to be taken seriously.
    Judge # 3 -- Keep this out of the reach of children. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to taste besides pain. I had to wave
    off two people who wanted to give me the Heimlich maneuver. They had to rush in more beer when they saw
    the look on my face.
    Chili # 3 Fred's Famous Burn Down the Barn Chili
    Judge # 1 -- Excellent firehouse chili. Great kick. Needs more beans.
    Judge # 2 -- A bean-less chili, a bit salty, good use of peppers
    Judge # 3 -- Call the EPA. I've located a uranium spill. My nose feels like I have been snorting Drano. Everyone knows
    the routine by now. Get me more beer before I ignite. Barmaid pounded me on the back, now my backbone
    is in the front part of my chest. I'm getting shit-faced from all of the beer.
    Chili # 4 Bubba's Black Magic
    Judge # 1 -- Black bean chili with almost no spice. Disappointing.
    Judge # 2 -- Hint of lime in the black beans. Good side dish for fish or other mild foods, not much of a chili.
    Judge # 3 -- I felt something scraping across my tongue, but was unable to taste it. Is it possible to burn out taste buds?
    Sally, the barmaid, was standing behind me with fresh refills. That 300-lb.bitch is starting to look HOT -- just
    like this nuclear waste I'm eating. Is chili an aphrodisiac?
    Chili # 5 Linda's Legal Lip Remover
    Judge # 1 -- Meaty, strong chili. Cayenne peppers freshly ground, adding considerable kick. Very impressive.
    Judge # 2 -- Chili using shredded beef, could use more tomato. Must admit the cayenne peppers make a strong statement.
    Judge # 3 -- My ears are ringing, sweat is pouring off my forehead and I can no longer focus my eyes. I farted and four
    people behind me needed paramedics. The contestant seemed offended when I told her that her chili had
    given me brain damage. Sally saved my tongue from bleeding by pouring beer directly on it from the pitcher.
    I wonder if I'm burning my lips off. It really pisses me off that the other judges asked me to stop screaming.
    Screw those rednecks.
    Chili # 6 Vera's Very Vegetarian Variety
    Judge # 1 -- Thin yet bold vegetarian variety chili. Good balance of spices and peppers.
    Judge # 2 -- The best yet. Aggressive use of peppers, onions, and garlic. Superb.
    Judge # 3 -- My intestines are now a straight pipe filled with gaseous, sulfuric flames. I shit on myself when I farted and I'm
    worried it will eat through the chair. No one seems inclined to stand behind me except that slut Sally. She
    must be kinkier than I thought. Can't feel my lips anymore. I need to wipe my ass with a snow cone.
    Chili # 7 Susan's Screaming Sensation Chili
    Judge # 1 -- A mediocre chili with too much reliance on canned peppers
    . Judge # 2 -- Ho hum, t

  • by tmosley (996283) on Monday October 17, 2011 @12:09PM (#37740298)
    Capsaicin binds to and, in high enough doses, destroys neurons that are responsible for signaling molecules involved in wound healing. If you took a high enough dose that it depleted those neurons in a certain part of your body, especially your insides, it would be similar to having leprosy. Tiny cuts would get infected, and spread, and eventually you would have mass tissue death.

    My lab used to study that before I started working here. Of course, we are talking super high doses, basically pure capsaicin. Peppers just aren't going to do it by themselves. As noted above, they have other health benefits, so no-one should really worry about toxicity, as the heat stops most people long before they could ever get to that point.
  • some of the competitive eaters were left writhing on the floor in agony, vomiting and fainting.

    Meanwhile at a seemingly unrelated event for ball-peen-hammer-head-bangers a few blocks away, some were left writhing on the floor in agony, vomiting and fainting after pummeling their skullcaps with their 16 pound hammers.

    Aren't their Darwin awards for this type of behavior?

  • But tissue inflammation could explain why the contestants in the Killer Curry contest said they felt like chainsaws were ripping through their insides.

    Just wait until they take a crap the next day. I know when I eat really spicy food (habanero and hotter) it feels like I am crapping a tactical nuke that is going off in my ass.

  • Chili peppers cause the eater's insides to rev up, activating the sympathetic nervous system â" which helps control most of the body's internal organs â" to expend more energy, so the body burns more calories when the same food is eaten with chili peppers.

    To me, this was the most interesting part of the article. If chili peppers cause an increase in the rate of burning calories, it seems like they'd be quite useful to dieters. For those who don't have a taste for spicy foods, might capsules full

  • at what point do people say, "hey, this isn't an interesting and enjoyable dining experience. This is pure masochism."?

  • by ghjm (8918) on Monday October 17, 2011 @01:38PM (#37741614) Homepage

    "Half of the 20 people who took part in the challenge dropped out after witnessing the first diners vomiting, collapsing, sweating and panting."

    WHO THE HELL ARE THESE OTHER TEN PEOPLE?

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