Do chillies and pepper make holes in our stomach?

A few years ago my Mum was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. At the time her practitioner advised her to avoid the consumption of spicy food and avoid seasoning her food with pepper, telling her that they would increase the irritation of her stomach lining therefore exacerbate her ulcer. About five years later, I started catering college and started studying all food related conditions and conditions that affect the digestive system. I decided then to ask my lecturer about the relation between chillies, pepper and stomach ulcer. His answer was vague : "it is not recommended to eat chillies or use too much pepper as seasoning but there are some studies about it on the way but it is too early to know if it is true or not".

One day, as I was reading a book by the French physicist and chemist Hervé This "Les secrets de la casserole" Edition Belin 1993, he talked about a study made by American gastroenterologist David Y Graham at the department of Medicine, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Houston, that was looking at the effect of chillies on the stomach lining.

David Graham study consisted of the observation of a panel of 12 volunteers. He started by giving them a "neutral" dinner; a traditional steak and chips. Then they had to eat the same meal, but seasoned with some aspirin. And finally, their third menu consisted of a pizza topped with spicy sausages and different Mexican traditional dishes in which he added as much chillies that it humanely possible to eat. Poor people!
The next step of the study was to subject these volunteers to an endoscopy (basically he made them swallow a very small camera to take pictures of their stomach and intestins). The results were that aspirin effectively attacked their stomach lining but that chillies didn't have any visible corrosive action on their stomach.

The principal ingredient that gives chillies their hot effect in our mouth is capsaicin or 8-methyl-N-vanniyl-6neneamid, for the chemists. It is also found in pepper. David Graham decided, logically, to concentrate his study on this particular molecule and its action on the stomach lining, as it was until then it was said that it had the same effect as aspirin.

Using pure capsaicin, he found no visible effects on the stomach. He even pushed his experience to place some pieces of some of the hottest chillies as well as some crushed pepper directly on the stomach lining, in vivo. The result was still negative. On the other hand, he observed that when he used tabasco, it had a corrosive action on stomach tissues. He explained this, by the fact that the concentration of acetic acid (it constitutes vinegar and is well known to have a aggressive effect on the stomach) was twice that of ordinary vinegar.

So, the results of his study were that even if chillies and pepper generate a pain message from our nerves to the brain, they don't have any particular corrosive action on our stomach nor our intestinal lining. In fact, they have a number of beneficial effects on our digestive system. They stimulate the production of saliva, speed up the intestinal transit and gives us a satisfying feeling after a spicy meal. In another of his studies he also found out that the capsiacin contained in jalapeno peppers have a positive effect on the treatment of the helicobacter pilori (virus linked to stomach ulcer).

In simple words chillies are good for you!


  1. Tqatt said,

    I know so many people who avoid chili and spicy foods, im so telling them this information.

    on 19 September, 2007  

  2. Denise said,

    thank you for your article. now i can continue to eat peppers, seasoned and spicy food without any hang-ups.

    on 05 May, 2009  

  3. Anonymous said,

    It's not capsicain but

    on 09 August, 2010