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I started eating a few chilis a day to man up when it came to spicy foods. Someone saw this and said that I'm probably going to get an ulcer or another stomach problem from it. Is there any truth to this?

  • Notable claim?? – user5341 Nov 10 '11 at 18:03
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    @DVK: Notable enough to be debunked here and here – Sklivvz Nov 11 '11 at 0:07
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Most ulcers are caused by bacterial infections (in particular, "Helicobacter pylori" infections are known to lead to ulcers, for which antibiotics are available), some others by aspirin and similar drugs and the rest by smoking or without clear cause. Spicy food does not cause ulcers.

Peptic ulcers were formerly thought to be caused by stress, coffee consumption, or spicy foods. Now it is clear that about 60% of peptic ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection that can usually be cured. Another 20% are caused by nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, etc.), and another 20% have miscellaneous causes such as cigarettes or no clear cause. (medicinenet.com, medscape.com)

On the contrary, a 1995 study by the National University of Singapore even suggests chili actually protects against ulcers, at least if you're Chinese.

The odds ratio of having peptic ulcer disease, adjusted for age, sex, analgesic use, and smoking by multiple logistic regression, was 0.47 (95% confidence intervals: 0.25-0.89) for subjects who had a higher intake of chili both in terms of frequency as well as amount used compared to those who took less chili. Our data support the hypothesis that chili use has a protective effect against peptic ulcer disease.

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    In particular, "Helicobacter pylori" infections are known to lead to ulcers, and there are antibiotics for this: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0012348 – Randolf Richardson Nov 10 '11 at 18:40
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    @RandolfRichardson: +1 I was reluctant to put in that level of detail in the answer, but by all means, edit it in :-) – Zano Nov 10 '11 at 19:35
  • @Zano: I don't have access to the full text, but -at least from the abstract- it is unclear how many chilis we're talking about. And it is unclear from the question how many a few chilis a day are... – nico Nov 10 '11 at 20:24
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    [Grumbles to himself that authors of a survey, even one that adjusts for age, sex, analgesic use, and smoking, should be more careful with their words. Do the data 'support' the hypothesis, or merely fail to contradict it?] – Oddthinking Nov 11 '11 at 0:50
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    @Zano, no. I am saying that correlation != causation. The survey has shown correlation between higher chili use and less ulcers, but hasn't shown that chili is protective. If, for example, some cultural groups ate less chili but were (unrelated) genetically/environmentally more likely to get ulcers, that might explain the result. Perhaps chili is correlated with well-cooked food, which might mean other food is more likely to contain live Helicobacter pylor bacteria. i.e. chili doesn't prevent ulcers, but thorough cooking does. – Oddthinking Nov 11 '11 at 2:06

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