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Barbara Bradley Bolen, Ph.D.

Red Hot Chili Peppers and IBS

By June 20, 2008

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No, not the rock band, although I am a big fan. Instead, I want to discuss a recent study that gives further support to the fact that IBS is not all in your head. Apparently, we have a particular type of nerve receptor that is responsible for the giving us the sensation of burning when we eat chili peppers. This new study looked at the relationship among the presence of IBS, the number of these receptors, and the experience of abdominal pain.

In order to measure the amount of the chili pepper nerve receptors, study participants underwent a colon biopsy procedure. The sample size was relatively small, with 23 IBS patients and 22 healthy comparison individuals. The results found that there were significantly higher amounts of fibers from the chili pepper nerve receptors in the IBS patients. There were also higher amounts of mast cells and lymphocytes, both of which are associated with inflammation. The number of chili pepper nerve fibers and mast cells were also associated with the amount of abdominal pain reported by the study participants.

This study offers some interesting evidence as to what is behind the visceral hypersensitivity noted in IBS. The long-term optimism is that perhaps medication can be developed that targets these specific nerve receptors. In the meantime, be careful when eating spicy food!


Akbar, A., Yiangou, Y., Facer, P., Walters, J., Anand, P. & Ghosh, S. “Increased capsaicin receptor TRPV1-expressing sensory fibres in irritable bowel syndrome and their correlation with abdominal painGut 2008 57:923-929.

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