Hot Sauce Endorphins: Is Hot Sauce Addictive?


There are many ways to describe the sensations that hot sauce causes on the body because many people may experience it differently. What is felt in the sensitive skin area around and inside of the mouth can be quite similar between consumers. However, other sensations after eating hot sauce that is often thought of as causing euphoric feelings may be slightly different for everyone.

Our brain releases endorphins when we consume hot sauce in response to the “pain” that it causes to our bodies. These endorphins cause a sensation throughout the body that is compared to the effects of a drug or even falling in love but provides a similar “rush” to the head. It is this sensation that keeps us reaching for a bottle of Carolina Reaper, scorpion, or ghost pepper hot sauce despite its extreme level of heat.

What is the burning sensation from hot sauce?

Anyone who has eaten any amount of hot sauce has felt the “burning” sensation on the tongue, lips, and mouth area. The burning sensation is an indication of the amount of hot peppers used in a hot sauce and the level of heat contained in each type of pepper. Of course, this sensation is typical and should be expected if you have consumed any quantity of hot sauce.

This burning impression is caused by the compound capsaicin found in the hot peppers that are used to make hot sauce and do not create any burning or scaring to any area of the skin on the human body. Capsaicin is a natural compound found in nature that deters predators from consuming the fruits of the plant. Recently the heat level of hot sauces has become extreme due to cultivators producing peppers that continually become hotter than the next. The consumption of these sauces then amplifies any euphoric feelings that run through our bodies upon consumption.

 

Once extracted capsaicin can be a powerful substance capable of healing properties but it is also known for triggering endorphins in the brain and releasing dopamine. Depending on your tolerance of hot sauce it may not take much to reach this feeling. It has become a cultural phenomenon to consume a food product knowing there may be negative consequences and unknowingly receiving an exciting feeling…all from a condiment.

How the human body perceives hot sauce

Hot sauce is a condiment unlike any other condiment. It has a sharp and pungent flavor, unique color, and vibrant scent. Although bottle labeling can attract our attention, it is the strong aroma that hot sauce gives off that first triggers our brain’s endorphins. Sense of smell is a huge factor in any positive and negative reaction to eating food and hot sauce can intensify this reaction.

Sense of smell

The sense of smell or aroma that hot sauce gives off is the first feeling that is triggered by eating hot sauce. Although this is not a direct consumption of hot sauce it can lead to the release of endorphins throughout the brain.  According to The Harvard Gazette, odors are directly linked to areas of the limbic system related to emotion. The flavors that are being experienced while eating hot sauce are often from our sense of smell. That is why you can plug your nose and not taste anything. It is the act of triggering emotions from the scent of a well-made hot sauce that begins the euphoric mood of a hot sauce tasting experience.  

Taste receptors

Taste receptors are the next part of the body that comes in contact with hot sauce. Contemporary hot sauce flavors are expanding to include exotic ingredients that heighten the senses upon consumption. However, it is not the flavor of the sauce that is directly linked to a euphoric reaction it is the heat of the hot sauce that makes contact with the TRPV1 receptors in our brains.

The spice and pungency that is caused by hot sauce is not thought of as a “flavor” experienced on the tongue but is more of a reaction to the high capsaicin content of hot sauce. This negative stinging effect can be felt from hot peppers if they come in contact with other areas of the skin like the hands and fingers. This will be even more relevant if you get hot sauce in your eye. These effects are not necessarily tasted but are feelings that are felt from receptors in the body.

TRPV1 receptors

Our TRPV1 receptors or transient receptor potential cation don’t just react to spiciness but it is the capsaicin found in the hot peppers within a hot sauce that will bind to these receptors and send signals to our brains. It is the body’s reaction to the “pain” that causes it to release endorphins in an attempt to defend and deal with the spiciness of hot sauce. These endorphins are naturally occurring in the body and are responsible for the “high” that hot sauce can give.

Endorphins and dopamine Runner high

Many proclaim that consuming hot sauce gives them a rush of blood to the head or a sense of euphoria that creates pleasure. This sensation can be caused by many things but can be closely associated with what runners feel. It is the release of endorphin and dopamine that keeps people craving it and wanting more. This seems like a contradictory feeling against some discomfort that an extremely hot sauce can create. Runners or athletes will often describe the same feelings after strenuous exercise due to the stress that they are putting their bodies through. I wonder what would happen if you ran a few miles and chugged a bottle of hot sauce?

Hot sauce releases more endorphins

The hotter the sauce, the more endorphins that will get released. Hot peppers that have a high heat content such as Carolina reaper, ghost, and scorpion will also have a high level of capsaicin. The consumption of a hot sauce that contains these peppers will trigger our defense mechanisms, or TRPV1 receptors, and release more endorphins. This is why many people seem to enjoy trying hot sauce with an extreme level of heat.

Does hot sauce get you high?

No matter how much hot sauce you consume it will not get you high in the sense that alcohol or illegal drugs do. This is why hot sauce is legal and sold on store shelves. Some avid consumers may relate their consumption to “getting high” but the effects may not be as blatant as ingesting other substances like THC or alcohol.

Is hot sauce addictive?

Hot sauce is by no means physically addictive to the degree that many substances may be. Beyond what capsaicin can trigger there are still extreme flavors that keep consumers craving new and different sauces. This can be directly associated with consumers eating large quantities of hot sauce. Purchasing new sauces, collecting oddly labeled bottles, and consuming exciting hot sauce flavors have become an obsession by many. This can certainly lead to somewhat of an addiction due to the many varieties available on the market today.

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