How chilli can help regain the sense of taste after COVID-19

The chances are you may be one of the 632 million people who have recovered from COVID-19. So, it may not be new to you that the virus can disrupt our senses when contracted, particularly the ability to taste and smell.

The thing is, even after people recover, these senses don’t always come back right away or, in some cases, return in an unexpected way.

However, with a little boost from eating chillies, your senses may be regained faster than usual. This claim is backed up by a scientific study in which the researchers found that 43 percent of people with COVID-19 amplified their sense of flavour when adding chilli and other spices to their food.

Chilli and its sensation

Before you understand how eating chilli works to regain your taste after experiencing COVID-19, let’s first discuss the basics of chillies.

The majority of us were born with an aversion to some sensations, like the taste of chilli on our tongue–hot and spicy. It happens because the primary ingredient of chilli is a compound called capsaicin.

When capsaicin comes into contact with sensitive areas of your skin, eyes and mouth, you may feel a mild tingling or a burning sensation, depending on the amount you consumed or your tolerance. That is why capsaicin is also the key ingredient of pepper sprays.

With smaller and tolerable amounts, you can surely adapt to the sensations of chilli and find them desirable.

Chilli and its sensation

Capsaicin can even serve as a natural opiate that makes our bodies produce endorphins the same way as a “runner’s high”.

Endorphins are released in response to the painful stimulus caused by capsaicin, providing their own pain-numbing and mood-enhancing effects.

The situation is similar to people who become addicted to running because the effect of endorphins produced by prolonged or intense exercise can reduce feelings of pain and make them feel good.

Unlike other common flavours and spices, chilli can last long on your taste buds even after swallowing a mouthful of food with it.

This is because capsaicin is not easily washed off from its receptors on your tongue and mouth, even by drinking lots of water.

The sensation may even intensify if you continue eating the rest of your plate, which is seasoned with chilli.

So, why do you react this way? You respond to capsaicin in a certain way because of the family receptors in your sensory nerves, which line the epithelial (outer) layers of your skin–naso-oral and gastrointestinal tract.

They bind to capsaicin and send signals to your brain. The receptors are known for being temperature sensitive and responsive to heat, aside from being activated by capsaicin [1]. 

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Chilli on regaining the sense of taste for recovered COVID-19 patients

Contracting coronavirus can temporarily reduce or lose your sense of taste and smell. While most people eventually recover, it can stay long for months after the initial illness.

The loss of the ability to smell is known as anosmia, while the loss of taste flavours in food is ageusia, leading to less enjoyment and quality of life.

Consequently, a research study about chilli’s effects on regaining a sense of taste in people with COVID-19 was conducted by a Danish meal company with exactly 2,000 participants.

It was found that 43 percent of the COVID-19 sufferers from their subjects increased the amount of chilli and other spices in their food to amplify the flavour of their meals. Research further reveals that chilli can help recover the sense of taste in some COVID-19 cases.

So, how can chilli help in amplifying flavours in the taste buds of people with COVID-19? Firstly, chilli can increase saliva production because of its burning sensation when eaten.

It is a response that dilutes the heat and improves the ability to chew the food more desirable. Chilli also dissolves and spreads other flavours in food around the tongue, which enhances the perception of other consumed flavours. 

Additionally, some volatile organic compounds consisting of flavours can also rise up from the back of the mouth to the nasal sensors when the food is swallowed.

It is like the pungent hit of wasabi after eating it on sushi or the complex mix of aromas in a Thai red curry when you smell the food. Also, chilli can increase the flavours of relatively bland foods, such as rice. 

Furthermore, the study explains that chilli pepper consumption works as an endorphins enhancer, while essential oil training can benefit COVID-19 survivors who have not yet recovered their sense of smell.

The research was focused on the mechanisms that different COVID-19 variants affect olfactory neurons–refer to the parts of the brain that process and respond to smell–and support cells in order to find treatments [2]. 

How can COVID-19 cause ageusia?

Ageusia is a condition that makes it hard to detect tastes, such as sweet, sour, salty or bitter. Infections, certain medications, nutritional deficiencies or some other factors can cause it.

COVID-19 also includes ageusia as one of its relevant symptoms. No need to be alarmed as much as treating the underlying cause of ageusia can definitely restore your taste in most cases. 

The way coronavirus can change your smell and taste remains unknown. On the good side, the virus does not directly affect the olfactory sensory nerves that are responsible for your smell or taste buds.

How can COVID-19 cause ageusia?

It only affects the supporting cells around the olfactory nerve. As the coronavirus is attacking the supporting cells, they can’t function as they are supposed to.

They block the olfactory nerve’s signals from transmitting to your brain, causing loss or change to your sense of taste.

It depends on how long one may suffer from ageusia due to COVID-19. Typically, symptoms are ongoing until the primary cause is treated, but usually, it takes one to three weeks.

Also, most people who have COVID-19 and suffer from ageusia tend to experience anosmia as well [3]. 

Chilli for longevity

Aside from amplifying the flavours in meals of COVID-19 sufferers, there are other health benefits of chilli that help with your longevity. Some of them are the following:

Lowers risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease

In one study, the researchers found that adding chilli peppers to your diet could potentially lower your risk of dying of cancer or cardiovascular disease. Plus, it can even promote longevity [4].

The research involved data from more than half a million people in different countries and concluded that people who eat chillies regularly have lower rates of death due to cardiovascular disease by 26 percent, 32 percent for cancer and 25 percent for any cause. 

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Helps reduce the duration of sickness

Vitamin C is needed to boost your immune system and immediately recover from any sickness you may contract, including COVID-19. A good amount of vitamin C in your body can reduce the time period of your sickness.

One of the good sources of vitamin C is chilli, whose content is even much higher than oranges. You can eat chilli as an alternative to oranges if it is not your thing. 

Prevents heart disease

How come? You may think that spicy food can cause heartburn; however, it is a bit of a misnomer and can be something unrelated to your heart health.

In fact, capsaicin in hot peppers can decrease inflammation and your chances of heart disease [5]. 

Promotes weight loss

Eating chilli peppers may help people with obesity or who are overweight as it can stimulate weight loss. Maintaining your body weight on track helps reduce your risk of other fatal diseases, resulting in healthy longevity.

Capsaicin in chilli peppers is found to be helpful in reducing appetite, increasing metabolism and burning off the calories you consume.

While eating chilli peppers can’t directly lead to weight loss, you can eat them along with your doctor-approved weight loss plan to see results more quickly [6]. 

When it comes to the nutritional content of chilli, it is certainly not just a spice. Chilli is loaded with a lot of essential nutrients, such as vitamin A, iron and dietary fibre.

Eating half a cup of canned green chilli peppers without seeds can provide you with 14 grams of calories, zero fat, 798 milligrams of sodium, three grams of carbs and 0.6 grams of protein. 

Why is eating chillies tolerable for others?

The thing is, chilli peppers are not for everyone. There are people who experience negative effects after eating chilli, especially those with medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive issues. Some may even experience diarrhoea or rectal pain after they consume chilli. 

Some people have a high tolerance for chilli or can increase their chilli consumption because their receptors tend to adapt and respond well to capsaicin. They gradually build and develop their tolerance and preference for the chilli taste and its effects. 

You can avoid experiencing the negative side effects of chilli peppers by limiting your intake to half a cup or less at a time.

Choosing mild chillies rather than hot ones can also help in gradually building your tolerance.

Moreover, there is a possibility that a person who consumes too much chilli of about more than 50 grams or three or four tablespoons on a daily basis may decline memory function. Hence, moderation is always the key. 

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[1] https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/why-chilli-can-help-us-regain-our-sense-of-taste-after-covid-19 
[2] https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2022/03/14/Gousto-launches-smell-training-kits-as-Long-COVID-sufferers-fall-out-of-love-with-food-after-losing-smell-and-taste 
[3] https://www.healthpartners.com/blog/how-to-regain-sense-of-smell-and-taste-after-covid-19/ 
[4] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/will-eating-more-chilis-help-you-live-longer
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5622797/ 
[6] https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-chili-peppers

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