Here’s How Capsaicin in Spicy Foods Causes Headaches and How to Counteract the Affects.

Why suffer with headaches?

It’s an open fact that I have an undeniable love for spicy foods. From the fiery spiciness of Thai and Indian dishes to the intense heat of salsa with Mexican cuisine, my passion for spicy flavors is well known among my friends and family.

What many of my friends don’t know is that I get frequent migraine like headaches. These headaches would actually wake me in the early morning and get worse throughout the day. I’d try waiting them out in hopes they’d disappear but to no avail. Eventually, I’d give in and down a few NSAIDs to numb the pain.

What’s the solution for finding the cause of headaches?

In search for solutions, I went to a functional medicine nutritionist to see what might be causing these headaches. After several consults and testing various ideas, we discovered several many possibilities could be causing these headaches.

Some of the causes for headaches were lack of sleep, dehydration, caffeine sensitivity, sugar rushes and consumption of sugary desserts too late in the day.

What was most interesting was I did not snack frequently enough. Basically, when I grow up, I never learned to eat enough protein through the day. And because of work ethics, I might not eat often enough through the day.

Diet changes helped reduce the frequency of headaches.

With this new found epiphany, I started a new diet ensuring snacks were consumed throughout the day. This helped a lot. The headaches were reduced from 4 to 5 times a month to almost none.

But then the headaches slowly snuck back in my life.

The true hidden underlying cause of these headaches after trying all these new eating habits became apparent.

My addiction for spicy foods was the cause for these crazy headaches.

I share my thoughts and findings in hopes that it will help my fellow hotheads, chiliheads, spice enthusiasts, pepperheads, chiliphiles or anyone else that is rewarded with a headache by consuming too much spicy hot foods.

What causes headaches from eating spicy foods?

At the time, I had Googled around for “headaches from spicy food” and  “headaches red peppers” but the search results implied hot spicy foods would likely ease headaches. Here’s one such search result: “If you like spicy food, cayenne pepper should be a top choice for migraine treatment.”

Finally after a deeper dive, I found headaches from eating spicy food are caused by the release of a compound called capsaicin. Capsaicin is found in chili peppers and triggers the release of a chemical called substance P, which in turn causes the blood vessels in the brain to dilate. This can lead to inflammation and pain, resulting in a headache. Additionally, the consumption of spicy food can also cause a release of certain neurotransmitters which can also cause headaches.

What is capsaicin?

If you’re a spice addict, you probably already know capsaicin is a spicy substance found in chili peppers. It affects a specific type of nerve cell in our body called TRPV1, which sends a signal to the brain that makes us feel the sensation of pain. When we eat spicy food, the capsaicin in it binds to these receptors, which causes them to open, leading to the feeling of pain or spiciness.

Interestingly, when capsaicin is used in a cream or ointment, it can desensitize the TRPV1 receptors over time, thus reducing pain. This is the mechanism behind capsaicin creams that are used to alleviate certain types of chronic pain, such as neuropathic pain and headaches.

So what is substance P and why does it cause headaches?

Substance P is a neuropeptide, a small protein-like molecule that acts as a neurotransmitter. It is primarily involved in the transmission of pain signals in the nervous system, but it also plays a role in other physiological processes such as inflammation, blood flow, and the release of other neurotransmitters. When substance P is released in response to a stimulus, such as the capsaicin in spicy food, it binds to receptors on nerve cells and triggers a cascade of events that ultimately results in the sensation of pain.

What are some ways to counteract the effects of substance P?

There are several ways to counter the effects of substance P and reduce the likelihood of experiencing headaches after eating spicy food.

Try anti-inflammatories

  • Ginger: Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce pain and inflammation. It can be consumed in the form of ginger tea, ginger supplements, or ginger powder.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric also contains anti-inflammatory compounds, particularly curcumin, that can reduce pain and inflammation. It can be consumed as a tea, supplement, or powder.
  • Green tea: Green tea has anti-inflammatory properties and contains antioxidants that can help to reduce pain.
  • Peppermint: Peppermint has menthol, which can help to reduce pain and inflammation. Peppermint tea is a great option.
  • Feverfew: This herb has anti-inflammatory properties and it’s been traditionally used to relieve headaches, migraines and other types of pain.
  • Magnesium: This mineral has anti-inflammatory properties and is known to help ease headaches. Magnesium supplements can be found in different forms, such as magnesium citrate, magnesium oxide, and magnesium chloride.
  • Rooibos: Also known as red bush tea, is a plant native to South Africa that has been traditionally used for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Stay hydrated.

  • Drink water: Consuming water or other fluids can help to dilute the capsaicin and reduce its effects.

Some manufactured solutions include:

  • Take over-the-counter pain medications: Medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help to reduce the pain associated with headaches.
  • Try antihistamines: Some antihistamines, like cetirizine, can also help to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Use capsaicin-based creams: Capsaicin, the compound that triggers the release of substance P, can also be used in creams to desensitize nerve endings and reduce pain.
  • Try natural remedies: Certain herbs and supplements such as ginger and magnesium have anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce pain.
  • Some medications like certain antidepressants, anticonvulsants and some anti-inflammatory drugs can target substance P and its receptors to reduce pain.

I hope these ideas for stopping headaches are effective for you.

I love spicy food, but it turns out that it’s the root cause of my headaches. My nutritionist helped me figure that out after trying different solutions like changing my eating habits and sleep schedule helped but there was an underlying issue.

In this journey, I discovered by tracking my diet that eating spicy foods correlated in a one to two day delay in a hangover-like headache.

This spicy food was releasing a compound called capsaicin, which triggers the release of a chemical called substance P that caused the blood vessels in my brain to dilate and lead to inflammation and thusly a painful headache. Since then, I’ve found ways to counteract the effects, like keeping hydrated, when necessary, taking over-the-counter pain medication, and trying natural remedies.

Drug Disclaimer:

It’s important to note that it’s always best to check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication. Additionally, it’s worth to mention that these remedies may not work for everyone, and also, a person may have an individual tolerance level for spicy food and how much they can consume without experiencing headaches.