Why Does Spicy Food Cause Hiccups? There is actually a lot of debate around this question. I decided to put some research into this topic after I wrote my Top 10 Hottest Chili Peppers article.
While I was writing that article I watched tons of videos of people eating hot peppers. To my surprise, a good percentage of the people started hiccuping almost immediately after ingesting the spicy treat.
This peaked my interest…Why would that cause hiccups? It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it can’t be a coincidence that so many people experienced this phenomenon, so something must be causing it.
What Causes Hiccups
A good place to start this discussion is to take a look at why people get hiccups in the first place. I am sure most of you have experienced this uncomfortable sensation, but why?
Strangely the exact reasons for our hiccuping hasn’t been totally pinpointed by scientists, but the basic anatomy of it is fairly clear.
Simply put, there is a layer of muscles between your ribs and your diaphragm (as seen below your lungs in the diagram on the left) that our body uses to help us take a breath. These are called the intercostal muscles.
Typically, when you experience hiccups, it is because your stomach is irritating your diaphragm and causes the intercostal muscle group to spasm. This triggers small gasps for air that are blocked by the proceeding temporary contraction of the glottis in your windpipe (trachea)- making the sound we call hiccups.
Many times this irritation may happen when you eat or drink too much or too fast. Irritation in the stomach can cause bloating which can trigger the diaphragm.
Hiccups can also be caused by the nerve pathways from your brain to the related muscles. You may have experienced this if you ever started hiccuping while crying or during some other emotional activity. Even things like drastic changes in temperature can cause this form of hiccups.
I, personally, most often get those dreaded hiccups when I am really hungry. It is really is a bit of an anti-weight-loss phenomenon for me, because every time I haven’t eaten for a while, and I am super hungry, I know those hiccups are waiting for me right around the corner.
Another huge bummer (that you all may also deal with) is that once I get a case of the hiccups, I will no doubt continue to get them 3 or 4 more times in the next couple days.
I should add that if you have chronic hiccups that won’t go away, it may be a sign of a more serious condition.
Most of us just naturally get them from time to time for the above listed reasons.
But if you feel like you get them more than you should, or that they last longer than they should, make sure you see a medical professional. It is important to make sure it isn’t something more serious than just an annoying case of the hiccups.
How To Get Rid of Hiccups
I know there are a ton of different ways people swear that work to relieve yourself from hiccups. Most people know the old trick of holding your breath, or trying to scare the hiccups out of somebody.
Scaring somebody is best for when it the version of hiccups caused by brain signals. But if it is your stomach causing your breathing spasms, other tricks work better.
Increasing the amount of carbon dioxide to your lungs seems to be the best bet. A good way to do this is breathing into a paper bag.
For me, if the hiccups were caused by hunger, a few bites of food usually alleviates the problem. But as I said, once I get them I am bound to get them again very soon. When this happens I have to turn to other solutions to vanquish those irritating spasms.
Most of you probably do not know this, but I was a bartender for about 8 years. Spending all those years around people drinking, eating, and flapping their mouths, along with my favorite over emotional patrons, has made me privy to too many cases of hiccups to count.
Throughout my experience I have found only one solution that works every time (for me and everyone else). It does however require a little dexterity, which sadly, often times some bar goers lack. But when I could get them to really pay attention to my instructions and perform the task, it worked every time without fail.
I will explain it here and put a video of how to do it. It is a bit complicated to explain, but once you get it, is a life saver!
Fill up a glass 3/4 full with water. A 16 ounce glass or bigger works best. If it is too small you may not have enough to complete the process. But in a pinch I have made it work with a standard coffee cup.
Steps 2,3, and 4
Ok, you are going to end up drinking the water upside down from the opposite side of the glass.
So, what you want to do is slightly lean forward to where you can put your mouth on the opposite side of the glass from where you would normally drink from.
Now you will want to slowly lean forward to where the water can get into your mouth and start drinking. It is a bit awkward, that is why it works. Just keep drinking upside down, but standing up, until you can’t drink anymore.
Don’t quit, just keep drinking. You end up kind of gulping, sucking, and trying to breath while you are awkwardly drinking the water, but that is good, just keep going…And when you are done your hiccups will be gone! 100% guaranteed!
This video shows the technique, but you need to drink longer than this if you actually have the hiccups and want to get rid of them. Just bend over and drink like in the video, but keep drinking until you CANNOT drink anymore.
If you hate the hiccups as much as I do, this is a miracle cure. I have held my breath until I am nearly passing out, just to still have those darn hiccups! I am telling you, drink the water upside down. It works.
Why Spicy Foods Can Give You The Hiccups
Just like the cause of hiccups in general, there is some speculation as to why hot peppers cause the ensuing hiccups in some people.
Some theorists believe that the capsaicin (the chemical found in chili peppers that make them spicy) triggers neurons in the diaphragm. Which as we know can cause hiccups.
It is also possible that people who react more, physically and/or mentally, to hot peppers may be increasing their chances of getting hiccups after ingestion.
As was stated above, strong emotions can cause the brain to trigger neurons that cause hiccups. And we also know that an upset, bloated, or inflamed stomach can also produce the proper chain of events to cause hiccups.
So, in following this train of thought, it seems possible that a person who reacts strongly, emotionally or digestively, to the pepper may actually be likely to set off the reactions necessary to bring on the hiccups.
Many people can eat hot peppers and spicy food without ever getting the hiccups, but for others this is not the case.
Spicy foods causing hiccups could also have something to do with a pain receptor we have called TRPV1 receptors.
These receptors are found in your mouth and “…throughout the body, including in the nerves that control our diaphragm, which is the muscle that allows our lungs to take in air.” (medicalnewstoday.com)
Capsaicin binds to these receptors and causes what we perceive as pain in our mouths when we eat spicy food. And it may also be responsible for triggering the nerves that tell our diaphragm how to behave when we eat certain foods.
One interesting fact to add to this is that capsaicin binding to the TRPV1 receptors is why capsaicin makes a great painkiller in many situations. Once it has bound to the receptors it actually temporarily numbs that receptor so that we do not feel anymore pain associated with it until the affects wear off.
What it ends up coming down to is that scientists don’t really know everything about hiccups, and definitely do not know exactly why chili peppers can cause them in some people.
However, with the research I did and presented here, we can comfortably feel like we know we know enough to at least have a clue as to why we might have the hiccups.
And, lucky for you, I also gave you a tried and true 100% guaranteed way to get rid of those mind irritatingly horrible hiccups when the do arise.
I will also keep my eyes and ears open on this subject for the rest of my life. So, whenever new information is presented on the subject I will make sure to post any research I come across that may clear any of this up for us.
And, as always, if you have anything to add, or have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment.
If you would like to read about the health benefits of hot peppers make sure to check out my previous article.