Chemicals found in chili peppers convert energy into heat within ones body, concludes a recent study. This heat is in addition to the general sensation of spiciness induced by chilis, leading to flushing and sweating.
The chemical capsaicin is responsible for the spiciness of chili’s. By triggering sensory neurons, capsaicin leads to the common hot spicy feeling.
This feeling of heat described above is not the same direct physical heat converted from energy though. This physical heat results from changing the function of the muscle protein SERCA, which is also caused by capsaicin. This change leads to thermogenesis, which is a natural process that creates heat within one’s body. Thermogenesis, for example, is common in hibernating bears, as a method to stay warm during the winter. While the feelings of heat induced from spiciness are somewhat superficial, thermogenesis is a very real physical process.
Increased body temperature is often associated with increased metabolism, both commonly associated with hypothermia. More succinctly, red chilis, or capsaicin containing medications, might have a strong potential as a treatment for hypothermia. Or eating red chili’s might be a healthy way to stay warm on a cold night.
Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Zagorski, Nick. Journal of Biological Chemistry news release. August 2008.