The Truth Behind Your Spicy Food Cravings

Spicy food has a unique appeal all on its own. It sets your mouth on fire, can roil your stomach, and isn't exactly fun for people with heartburn. But still, some people can't seem to get enough of it. They even crave it, despite the pain it can bring.

This is especially true if someone once loved spicy food but had to cut it out of their diet. Cleveland Clinic makes the point that depriving yourself of both food in general and specific foods that stimulate pleasure in the brain can lead to cravings. And the University of Washington tells us that food cravings are tied to "physical and emotional needs," meaning that when those needs are not being met, your body sends out a demand for something to fill the gap. And though the articles are focused on sweet or salty foods, some people have similar urges for spicy food.

Of course, it's not just fond memories that can have someone reaching for the red pepper or the hot sauce, though memories can be pretty powerful. It turns out there is a deeper reason spicy food has so many fans — one that goes into biochemistry and the way our brains process both pain and pleasure.

You might need a pick-me-up

A lot of people associate spicy food with pain — and for obvious reasons. Almost everyone has had chapped lips and made the mistake of getting something spicy on their mouths, and the heat of the food itself can be painful to the delicate tissues of the mouth. But that pain is part of the reason fans of spicy food keep going back for more.

As Northwestern University explains, when capsaicin causes pain, our bodies react by releasing endorphins in the brain. In their article on managing stress, the Mayo Clinic describes endorphins as a feel-good chemical, and that really is an apt title. After all, serotonin is the chemical our brain needs in order to feel happiness. Eating spicy food leads to a direct increase in the amount of serotonin in our brains.

So the next time you're craving something hot, take a second to look at how you're feeling. You might need a mood boost and your body knows that capsaicin can give it to you. Or you might be missing the feel-good memories that you associate with that food. And so long as there's no medical reason to skip it, adding a little more heat to your food could be a great way to get you out of that slump and shake off the blues.