The claim: Eating spicy foods causes ulcers.
The facts: Years ago it was accepted as fact that spicy foods were the culprits behind many peptic ulcers (ulcers in the stomach and upper portion of the small intestine). Doctors’ advice was to avoid curries, salsas, hot peppers, and anything else that “burned,” the theory being that they would literally burn the lining of your stomach (not to mention your taste buds).
Turns out, the opposite may be true: As researchers in India have found, capsaicin (the “hot” element in chili peppers) can actually stimulate secretions in the stomach that help prevent and even help heal ulcers.
According to the CDC, the overwhelming majority of ulcers are due to the bacteria Heliobacter pylori (up to 80 percent of stomach ulcers and more than 90 percent of ulcers in the duodenum of the small intestine). Chronic use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin, can also damage tissues, leading to ulcers. Smoking and stress can aggravate an existing ulcer. But the belief that spicy foods can cause ulcers still lingers.
These open sores in the gastrointestinal system affect as many as 4.5 million people in the U.S., with symptoms ranging from mild abdominal pain and vomiting to bleeding. Some ulcers may result in perforation of the lining of the stomach or duodenum, a life-threatening condition that usually requires surgery.
Ulcers caused by H. pylori bacteria can be diagnosed with a blood or breath test and treated with antibiotics and drugs that reduce the production of stomach acid.
Even though spicy foods can’t cause an ulcer, it’s recommended that if you have one you should still avoid them if they trigger pain; you should also pass on any other foods or drinks that cause discomfort, especially coffee, alcohol, chocolate, and caffeinated sodas.