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Medicine Science

Eating World's Hottest Pepper Sparks Brain Disorder, Thunderclap Headaches (arstechnica.com) 155

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Extremely hot peppers don't just blister your mouth and bum -- they can also spark fiery havoc in your brain, according to a report published Monday in BMJ Case Reports. An otherwise healthy 34-year-old man developed a blood-flow disorder in his brain and suffered several debilitating "thunderclap" headaches after entering a hot pepper eating contest, U.S. doctors reported. The man had managed to get down a Carolina Reaper pepper, which in 2013 earned the title of the world's hottest chili by Guinness World Records.

The searing pepper didn't sit well in the chili-eating contestant. Immediately after slaying a Reaper, the man began dry heaving and developed pain in his neck and the back of his skull. That morphed into a diffuse, painful headache. Over the next few days, he experienced thunderclap headaches at least twice -- but likely more, he just couldn't recall exactly. Thunderclap headaches are severe, sudden, with quick pains that strike like a clap of thunder rumbling through your skull. They tend to peak within 60 seconds and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, altered mental state, seizures, and fever. Their stormy aches can be a sign of serious problems, like bleeding in the brain, a brain infection, or a cerebrospinal fluid leak. The pain was excruciating enough that the man went to the emergency room. But doctors didn't find any immediate problems with him to explain the episodes. He didn't have any slurred speech, loss of vision, neurological deficits, muscle weakness, or tingling. His blood pressure was a little high, but not extremely so, at 134/69 mmHg. Initial CT scans found no problems in his neck and head.

Eating World's Hottest Pepper Sparks Brain Disorder, Thunderclap Headaches

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 10, 2018 @11:41PM (#56416175)

    All varieties of pepper are nutrient-rich, and the heat will boost the metabolism a bit helping control weight, provide pain relief, help manage diabetes, and directly fights prostate cancer.

    Don't give up on peppers just because overdoing it can cause harm.

    Just don't overdo it.

    • by sad_ ( 7868 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @06:33AM (#56416997) Homepage

      best advice for everything - don't overdo it.
      drinking too much water can kill you.
      doesn't mean we all should suddenly stop drinking water.

    • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @07:04AM (#56417059)

      All varieties of pepper are nutrient-rich, and the heat will boost the metabolism a bit helping control weight, provide pain relief, help manage diabetes, and directly fights prostate cancer.

      I fully agree.

      Don't give up on peppers just because overdoing it can cause harm.

      Just don't overdo it.

      Pepper mad scientists overdid it about 2 million scoville units ago. It was nice back when the habanero was king, and people still enjoyed the taste of a good pepper.

      Now the pepper world has morphed into the food equivalent of Jackass.

      • by Gilgaron ( 575091 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @08:04AM (#56417191)
        I don't use anything hotter than habeneros, are the ghost peppers and so on useful for recipes where additional less spicy peppers would be detrimental or is it all just a pissing match?
        • by LaminatorX ( 410794 ) <sabotage.praecantator@com> on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @08:59AM (#56417411) Homepage

          I like that ghost peppers can be smoked/dried/roasted and still have substantial heat left. I don't use them fresh. Habaneros are about the hottest thing I'll use fresh, and even then I more often go for seranos, as you've got more control.

          • by Green Mountain Bot ( 4981769 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @12:41PM (#56418465)
            Serranos are the sweet spot. Hot enough for most applications, but not so hot that you lose the flavor. As you note, they give you great control. Jalapenos will overwhelm the flavor balance of a dish if you add more for more heat. Habaneros will lose their flavor contribution if you dial them back. Serranos have enough heat that you don't need to throw off the taste profile to increase heat, and enough flavor that you can still taste them if you need to take the heat down a notch or three.
            • I am partial to that grand-daddy of hot pepper cuisines - the Tabasco pepper, a cultivar of Capsicum frutescens. Most hot peppers are a different species, Capsicum annuum. The Tabasco pepper, like Tabasco Sauce (the first hot sauce ever marketed), has a nice sharp clean bite, then a quick fade - no lingering burning.

        • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @09:31AM (#56417525)

          Much like Vanilla Extract or the variety of other extracts. A Ghost Pepper can be used to give heat to a dish, but its small size will not bring pepper flavor to it. Eating raw Ghost peppers, is like eating baking chocolate, or drinking a shot of Vanilla Extract or Vinegar. Unpleasant by itself but used in the right amounts it adds flavor and/or changes the chemical composition of the food to make it palatable.

        • Mrs. Renfro's Ghost Pepper Salsa (actually mostly habenero w/ a touch of ghost chile): a spoonful gives a great heat to a whole pot of what-have-you. But on the main topic, I completely agree that nobody wants to taste things anymore.
        • Some of the hotter ones are fucking delicious, in moderation. Extreme moderation. Rather than deal with the peppers themselves, check out some of the hot sauces from Heatonist. Use them very, very sparingly, and you'll be pleasantly surprised by how good they are. I've lightly dosed a pork roast with some of the hottest ones there and slow roasted it, and it was stunning.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          Ghost pepper has its uses, like making a hot dip from sour cream. Milder (and I use that term loosely) peppers tend to have the heat disappear unless you use so much that the pepper taste overpowers everything else.
          Also, ghost pepper flakes, used sparingly, is excellent for sprinkling on barbecued vegetables and pizza. You get bites that taste hotter than others, which makes for a more interesting meal than when every bite tastes the same. Two flakes per pizza slice is enough.

          Then there's vinegar-free gh

      • There is a time and a place for everything, ghost peppers' place is to make things spicy with out imparting other flavors onto a dish.
      • Every time I read this story I start laughing when I get to the dry heaving part.

    • If its about laying off of the insanity chillis, Im way ahead of you.

    • It's much the same with any food or drink. If it's something known to be safe for consumption, don't go to extremes with it and you'll be fine.

      If you drink enough water in a short period, it will poison you and you will die. In no way does that mean you should stop drinking water.

      If you're someone who likes sour tastes, don't go creating the ultimate sour taste beyond anything ever seen before and expect it to continue to be just as safe as a lemon.

    • by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @10:48AM (#56417869)
      It's easy to overdo the peppers though. I ate just half a red bell pepper and drank 12 shots of Tequila and I had a terrible pepper headache the next day.
    • There are so many underappreciated varieties. Filius Blue peppers are typically grown as an ornamental plant, but mildly hot yet extremely flavorful, perfect for salads.

    • Don't give up on peppers just because overdoing it can cause harm. Just don't overdo it.

      "The dose makes the poison"
              - - Paracelsus (aka Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim)

  • by pots ( 5047349 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2018 @11:46PM (#56416191)
    The summary is perhaps a little misleading, the paper says in the very next sentence that CT angiography turned up reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome which can cause this kind of headache. Since capsaicin can cause arterial constriction, and this started immediately after eating the pepper, they are tentatively assuming a causal relationship.
    • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @12:32AM (#56416289)
      Further the guy was fine 5 weeks later as you can see from the photos here [cnn.com]. If this was indeed the cause then it would be the first case ever of RVCS induced by capsaicin. The peppers aren't as hot as nearly pure capsaicin extract, which is used as an ingredient in those hot wings you often have to sign a waiver for as well as topical pain relief creams (DO NOT TASTE THESE). I like spicy foods, even extremely spicy foods, but after eating several of those extract laden wings, not only did my hands start burning through the skin (I now know why the chefs wear them), but I suffered pretty severe abdominal pain for 12 hours on top of the usual exit wounds. Not really worth your picture on a wall if you ask me.
      • by cstacy ( 534252 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @01:20AM (#56416375)

        you often have to sign a waiver for as well as topical pain relief creams (DO NOT TASTE THESE).

        Having lived through the Merciless Peppers of Quetzalacatenango grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum, I am ready for the Capsagel Challengem dude!

        Or is it brah? I have trouble remembering things since the Tide Pods last week...Can't even figure out where my condoms have gone.

      • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @06:37AM (#56417007)

        on top of the usual exit wounds

        Today you fancy yourself a fire breathing dragon!
        Tomorrow the Rocket Maaaaaaaaannnnnnnn!

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        If you think capsaicin is harsh, try resiniferatoxin [wikipedia.org]. Activates the same receptor as capsaicin, but is 500-1000 times more potent. 16 billion scoville units ;) They call it a toxin for a reason. The threshold between pain symptoms and toxic symptoms in chemicals that activate TRPV1 is high, but not unlimited.

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          To put that into perspective:

          * A half teaspoon of resiniferatoxin mixed into a two-litre bottle of water will make it hotter than the same two litre bottle full of pure capsaicin.
          * A kilogram of bell peppers, soaked in a solution with a single drop of resiniferatoxin, would be rendered as hot as a kilogram of ghost peppers.
          * Six olympic swimming pools of resiniferatoxin could render Lake Erie as hot as a mild pepper, and 30 could make it as hot as a jalapeno. Given that the total syn

          • You really got to mix units didn't you?
            Empirical Teaspoons to Metric Liter
            Metric Kilogram to a suggestive single drop.
            Olympic swimming pools to a Lake Erie
            What would one TOS USS Enterprise NCC-1701 do to the lava in Mt. Doom?

            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              Teaspoons are well defined, 4.92892ml.
              Drop is a unit in pharmacy equivalent to 0,05ml, not a "suggestive single drop"
              An olympic swimming pool with a nominal depth of 2m is 250000l. Lake Erie is 480 cubic kilometers.

              Resiniferatoxin is 1,35g/ml and water is 1g/ml, for where it matters.

              • While the math checks out, I'd argue eating pure capsaicin vs resiniferatoxin is like being able to tell the difference between infinity burning sensation and infinity burning sensation times 1000. Id wager they both map to the same soul crushing pain set. That said, I'm not going to put my gastrointestinal tract where my mouth is on this one, I'd like to think I've learned my lesson.
            • by epine ( 68316 )

              Since Google search started to handle mixed-unit calculations flawlessly, I just input any unit at hand, and spare my worry for whether I trust the numbers in the numbers in the first place.

              The original reason for avoiding mixed unit calculations was that it was so easy to screw something up handling the conversions manually.

              Now I just cut and paste whatever formula I entered into Google search, so if necessary I can repeat or otherwise verify the calculation later.

              There were actually a couple of weird edge

          • by arth1 ( 260657 )

            * A kilogram of bell peppers, soaked in a solution with a single drop of resiniferatoxin, would be rendered as hot as a kilogram of ghost peppers.

            From a cooking perspective, bell peppers are notoriously bad at soaking up other flavors. What kind of solution would make the bell pepper cells permeable, allowing it to soak up the substance, without causing other major taste changes? I'm only asking because I'd love to infuse flavor into otherwise bland peppers.

        • Wow, "Animal experiments suggest that, in humans, ingestion of 10 g may be fatal or cause serious damage to health.[12] It causes severe burning pain in sub-microgram quantities when ingested orally."
          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            Shouldn't be surprising. Picture eating three orders of magnitude as much pure capsaicin. I don't think you'd survive that either.

            Capsaicin is for amateurs. ;)

    • Thanks for pointing that out. I was wondering why it said he developed a blood flow issue from the pepper despite not finding any such issues. Before I saw your post I was going to ask about that and question why they used a CT scan when it seems like the sort of thing you'd want to use an MRI (or fMRI) for.
  • One case... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    is hardly evidence. This is speculation, not science.

  • Hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by tylersoze ( 789256 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2018 @11:53PM (#56416215)

    I pretty sure the brain disorder is wanting to put that shit in your mouth in the first place.

    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

      by adolf ( 21054 ) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @02:40AM (#56416511) Journal


      I grow Carolina Reapers. I do not eat Carolina Reapers.

      Well, I mean, I do eat them: I blend them with a lot of salt and plenty of strong vinegar and freeze them in squeeze-bottles until it is time to consume. The mixture seems to keep indefinitely, once thawed, under normal refrigeration.

      I've also fermented them and done the same sort of thing with them, which produces very different taste.

      The sauce is a crowd pleaser and it is very tasty. But despite being made from the hottest of peppers, I've had it described as being "surprisingly mild." In sauce form, it's easy to use tiny amounts.

      But I don't eat them. I've chopped up tiny slivers of one and put it on a baked potato (with plenty of butter, sour cream, and cheese), many times, and I ate those potatoes, but I don't just -- you know -- eat them as they are.

      Eating these peppers as they are is a really fucking stupid thing to do. Then-girlfriend's much-younger then-high-school-aged brother liked to take them to school with him; I encouraged him not to. He used them as dare material. I feel bad for those poor bastards.

      These fuckers are mean. When I had a surplus of some of these and some other scary-hot peppers one year (more than I could bottle), I tried to give some to the Asian grocery store next door who was always kind to me, just a basket on the counter of peppers for folks to -- you know -- just take for free. "Too hot," they said after a couple of days. "Nobody wants these," they added when they gave them back). A bunch of spicey-food-loving Mexicans that my Dad knows also rejected them ("too hot," they said too)..

      And yes, it's "all in your head," but the body's reaction to what's in your head can be very damaging to said body.

      That all said: I'm lead to wonder if the "thunderclap headaches" in TFA weren't caused directly by the violent retching. The human body is pretty fucking hard on itself when it comes to expelling (what it considers to be) poisons.

      • The mixture seems to keep indefinitely, once thawed

        So not even bacteria dare to touch it?

      • I blend them with a lot of salt and plenty of strong vinegar and freeze them in squeeze-bottles until it is time to consume. ... The sauce is a crowd pleaser and it is very tasty.

        Sounds fantastic. Can you please give us the recipe, or at least approximate proportions?

        • Trim woody bits from peppers. Throw in blender. Puree. Add enough vinegar that it smooths out. Add more salt than you think you should, and then put more in. A touch of olive oil can be fun, too, which changes the texture a bit.

          That's all. Just peppers, vinegar, and salt. A tiny bit sorks fine when it comes to consumption.

          1 pound of peppers produces a bit less than a quart.

          Keep refrigerated or you might get botulism and die in one of the shittier wayz imaginable.

        • I've never done it, so I can't give you the ratios, but one important thing I've noticed from stories of those who have: do NOT do this indoors. Your house may be nigh-uninhabitable for a surprisingly large amount of time.
  • by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <.kepler1. .at. .hotmail.com.> on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @12:06AM (#56416249)
    Maybe we should heed the signals that thousands, if not millions of years of evolution have given some plants/animals the capability to send, and us the benefit of being able to receive?
    • Primates like us are pretty good at eating poison, probably only the rodents do it better. A good example would be chocolate, which is famously poisonous to dogs, but also highly toxic to birds, but any pet owner has surely had to spend time figuring out which table scraps to have to keep away from their pets. The spiceyness in peppers is to discourage mammals from eating the peppers, but they aren't poisonous. Humans eat them for novelty, and birds can't taste the capsaicin, the latter of which probably
      • I've heard that birds lack a digestive enzyme that breaks down the seed casings, so any that aren't ground up in the gizzard pass through fertile. Birds also seem to defecate on flat surfaces like bare ground or your car. This tends to grow the plants the birds like to eat near where the roost, and is why the lack of the enzyme is beneficial. Mammals both have the enzyme and feel the heat.

        • Anecdotally I have seen this with raspberries: less relevantly, the birds love them and you have to pick them very regularly or they get discovered and the birds tell their friends about them and are harder to beat to the ripe ones. More on topic, you will end up with more raspberry plants under wherever the birds like to congregate, which being adjacent to fences or under trees also tend to be places the plants like. It is good until you get other berry plants birds like, such as poison ivy, intermingle
          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            Wild blueberries (okay, bilberries) grow abundantly here and when they're in season on my land, there's often purple bird droppings full of seeds scattered all over everything that's left outside.

            Nutritious fleshy fruits evolved for a reason...

            Some plants even appear to have evolved "cheats" in their fruits. For example, there's a number of fruits that contain non-calorific chemicals that are many times sweeter than sugar; some of them are currently being incorporated into commercial products, while others

    • Maybe we should heed the signals that thousands, if not millions of years of evolution have given some plants/animals the capability to send, and us the benefit of being able to receive?

      The message is "I don't want you to eat me" and it has been received loud and clear. The response is "nom nom nom".

  • I have had lots of hot peppers, but they have NEVER caused me blisters. Is this just a metaphor?
    • by thomst ( 1640045 )

      freeze128 wondered:

      I have had lots of hot peppers, but they have NEVER caused me blisters. Is this just a metaphor?

      You may have had lots of jalapenos, but Carolina Reapers are a completely different level of hot. Like 900 times hotter [wikipedia.org] than jalapenos.

      And, yes, people who are particularly sensitive to capsacin can and do develop contact dermatitis from eating Carolina Reapers ...

    • Re:Blisters? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by careysub ( 976506 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @08:22AM (#56417255)

      Yes, the stuff about hot peppers literally causing physical lesions as if they were thermally hot is folklore. Capsaicin stimulates nerves via the TRPV1 receptor that also responds to heat, and so gives the sensation of burning. It causes no physical changes directly.

      As another poster here has noted rare idiosyncratic rashes can occur, but lots of things can cause rashes in some people, it is really an immune system abnormality in the victim.

    • I've never had blisters, but have had red, irritated skin after chopping a large number of habeneros for canning recipes. If you've gotten the juice in your eye while chopping you'd not doubt that a sufficiently concentrated dose could result in blisters.
    • It's probably not the capsicum that causes the blisters as much as the skins reaction to it.

  • by cdsparrow ( 658739 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @01:09AM (#56416355)

    Most days. I have become a big fan of reaper powder sprinkled on stuff. In my experience, the peppers will usually make my headaches (even migraines) go away better than any medicine I've tried, so ymmv...

  • by ChunderDownunder ( 709234 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @01:20AM (#56416377)

    ...when she threw out my music collection.

    Red Hot Chili Peppers do rot your brain!

    • Could be worse, my mom took a copy of Blood Sugar Sex Magic that I had borrowed from a friend. He got it back in the end, but it was very embarrassing.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It eludes me how people think they can just eat all sorts of crap or risiculous quantities and NOT have a problem. Are you so ignorant of your own body?

  • You can die by drinking too much water. Still, not that scary.
  • by LostMonk ( 1839248 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @03:04AM (#56416551)

    PATIENT: It hurts when I do that.

    DOCTOR: Stop doing that!

  • by skovnymfe ( 1671822 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @05:40AM (#56416865)
    Guy eats neurotoxins. Guy gets brain damage. Somehow I don't see the connection here. Can someone point it out for me? OH WAIT SO HE IS EATING NEUROTOXINS AND HE GETS BRAIN DAMAGE? Well who would'a fucking thunk that could happen?
  • I had assumed we would be given some kind of study of several people. This just talks about a single guy having a bad week around 5 years ago. Has this happened to several others? I'm fairly certain he isn't the only person to ever eat this pepper.
    • You're right.

      Here, eat this. For science.

    • Yeah I'm thinking it's pretty hard to get test subjects to eat peppers with military weapons grade capsaicin in them. It would also be pretty obvious to figure out who were the test subject and who were the placebo subjects.

  • If if it doesn't matter, it's hot!

  • DO fear the reaper?
  • by neo-mkrey ( 948389 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @09:37AM (#56417549)
    ...win stupid prizes.
  • Isn't fun or enjoying food But you eat what ya want, but sweating, running to get water/milk whatever and hopping around isn't my idea of fun eating.But if you want to make a fools of yourself..go for it lol.A little pepper is just fine for me.
    • by Wulf2k ( 4703573 )

      It's all about how much tolerance to the heat you've developed.

      Grab any random person off the street and feed them a jalapeno and they'll probably have a pretty bad time, and only remember the burn. Have that same person eat spicy food for a few months and they'll probably enjoy snacking on jalapenos for the flavour.

      Same with the superhots. Well, probably not snacking on them directly, but maybe mix them into a meal. But biting into a superhot directly would be a vastly different experience for somebody

      • And that's your opinion that doesn't change mine. Ive had enough friends say just what you say and i sit their laughing as they sweat, make faces and say oh it doesn't affect ,me at All...hahahahha sureeeeeee it doesn't.You people want to make a fool of yourselfs i am more then willing to laugh ...were both having fun right..
  • Sounds like he was thunderstruck!
  • It looks like Confirmation Bias has reared its ugly head again.

    This is an anecdotal, one-time occurrence which has no scientific meaning.

    This is likely an allergy this guy has, but unless and until the scientific method is applied, e.g. having a double-blind placebo-controlled study done, the idea that hot peppers can cause brain injury is completely meaningless.

  • ... how ingenious humans are at finding new ways to prove Darwin's theories.

  • Whodathunk it? Now excuse me, I'm off to have some nice refreshing water [nbcnews.com].

  • Sounds like it was all in his head. Ba-dum-dum.
  • ...that it gives you a rectal disorder: A Ring of Fire.

This is now. Later is later.