The Loh Down On Science

Chili Chemistry

Scientists discover how chilis turn up the heat.

Burning for a hot story? This is Sandra Tsing Loh with The Loh Down on Science

and some spicy science news. We've all felt the sting of hot chili peppers -- teariness, sweating, thermogenesis-- That's right-- Thermogenesis--the process that helps our bodies produce heat, increasing metabolism and burning fat cells.

How? A certain protein uses your body's energy to pump calcium ions aiding muscle activity. When the cycle is interrupted, that energy is instead given off as heat.

Thermogenesis happens during exercise, and when our body temperature drops too low. Oh, the healing powers of shivering. And thermogenesis keeps hibernating animals from freezing.

Yasser Mahmmoud of Denmark's University of Aarhus found that ingesting capsaicin-the chemical that gives chilis their spice--induces thermogenesis artificially. It unhooks the so-called calcium pump and turns on the heat.

Studying chili chemistry could help develop new treatments for hypothermia. But what we ALL want to know is, can jalapenos burn calories?

Well, you'd need to eat a mountain of peppers to see any significant effect. And we don't mean Jack in a Box jalapeno CHEESE poppers. Nice try, though.


blog comments powered by Disqus