I have heard that you can die from eating too hot or too many chili peppers (see here). Is this even theoretically possible? How much peppers would you have to eat to be in any danger?
1One issue with the question as it stands is what counts as "dying from eating hot peppers"? Pure capsaicin poisoning? A side effect induced by the peppers (say, an asthma attack)? Something else? In any case, my answer below attempts one route at answering this.– HendyNov 2, 2011 at 4:20
1Notable claim link?– user5341Nov 2, 2011 at 6:40
I heard rumors but there is one supplied in the great answer hendy supplied so I will add it to my question although it is her source– YUASKNov 2, 2011 at 6:46
Theoretically, apparently yes:
But is there a deadly dose of spicy peppers? Researchers at Niigata University School of Medicine in Japan ran tests on mice to find out. After several hefty doses of pure capsaicin, most of the mice died of lung failure. Don't worry, though—you'd have to eat hundreds of thousands of jalapeños in one sitting to get the equivalent dose...
I tracked down the actual paper mentioned.
Another article cites Paul Bosland, professor of horticulture at New Mexico State University and director of the Chile Pepper Institute on the matter:
"Theoretically, one could eat enough really hot chiles to kill you," he says. "A research study in 1980 calculated that three pounds of extreme chilies in powder form — of something like the Bhut Jolokia — eaten all at once could kill a 150-pound person."
Three pounds of powder doesn't really seem like "eating peppers" to me -- this seems like a modification of the ingredients to cause the actives to be absorbed faster and take effect.
So, let's take the hottest pepper, the Bhut Jolokia mentioned above, and try to figure out how much one would have to eat of it.
Here's our data:
- LD50 for capsaicin (active spicy ingredient in peppers) is 47.2 mg/kg in mice
- Bhut Jolokia peppers have 2.06% weight/weight capsaicin content
- Average human body weight: 86.6kg (using heaviest male average from US)
So we need to solve:
47.2mg/kg × 86.6kg = LD50 dosage = 0.0206 × mass of peppers to ingest
This gives us 198,423.3mg ≈ 0.2kg (≈ 1/2 lb) of these peppers one would have to eat. I say that's doable. The open question is whether the LD50 in mice is transferable to humans.
Per @wjl's comment, Wikipedia lists Bhut Jolokia weight at 7-9g per pepper, so we're talking 22-28 peppers to reach the 0.2kg (200g) value.
the two don't seem to match. Half a pound of peppers is a lot less than "hundreds of thousands". It's more like a few dozen to at most a few hundred (for those really tiny peppers).– jwentingNov 2, 2011 at 12:37
@jwenting: apparently Jalapeños contain 0.30 mg/g capsaicin, that is 0.03% w/w. so ~70 times less then Bhut Jolokia. So, for jalapeños you'd get ~35lb.– nicoNov 2, 2011 at 14:19
@jwenting: I agree. I was puzzled by that myself. I was even puzzled by the expert quote about "3lbs of powder." The math seemed pretty straight fowards, so it seems to be what it is. Perhaps the expert quotes were just off the top of their head guesses? I do agree that 100k's of peppers seems crazy. Even if nico is correct at 35lbs... that's nowhere near 100s of thousands!– HendyNov 2, 2011 at 18:27
1That's 198.4233 g of Bhut Jolokia peppers. Going by Wikipedia's weight estimates, that's 22 to 28 peppers.– wjlDec 1, 2011 at 5:10
2I've not tried a Bhut Jolokia, but based on my experience with other peppers I don't know if you physically could consume that much delicious pain. May 1, 2012 at 15:56
The World's Hottest Chilli eating contest in Edinburgh this year did end with two of the contestants being rushed to hospital by ambulance - vomiting, agony - not good.
It isn't evidence, however it is a good indicator that you can seriously upset the body even with just a few spoonfuls of hot chilli, so it isn't a great leap of faith...
3On the other hand, this may make the predictions in the comments on the main answer more unlikely. How easy would it be to eat 22-28 peppers if you are in agony and vomiting before you get through them?– Oddthinking ♦Dec 1, 2011 at 22:21
1And the guys in the competition were eating them pretty fast - that's a good point...I wonder if you actually could eat that many. Dec 2, 2011 at 8:50