Spice-Lovers More Prone to Alcohol Problems

By Chrisanne Grise 02/05/13

Fiery foods and booze activate endorphins in the brain in similar ways, researchers say.

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A passion for fiery foods could spell trouble down the line; a new study finds that people who love spicy food are more likely to have a problem with alcohol. This is because both spice and alcohol stimulate the opioid receptors in the brain’s reward system, releasing naturally occurring endorphins, says study lead Sung-Gon Kim, a psychiatry professor from Busan National University in South Korea. "In the people who prefer spicy food, the opioid system is easily activated by drink or spicy [foods]," he explains. But there is a silver lining for spice-lovers: The study found naltrexone, a medication used to treat alcohol problems, was more effective for those who like their food with a kick. “Naltrexone blocks the opioid system's activation [which is] initiated by drinking," says Kim. "They do not feel the pleasure any more if they keep taking the medication.” Spicy food could also help drinkers cut back, by acting as a substitute source of opioid stimulation. In a third part of the study, Kim found that rats that were bred to have alcohol problems drank less if they were injected with the active ingredient in chilli. These injections also appeared to boost reward activity in their brains—meaning that the rats were saying no to booze, because they were already getting enough stimulation from the chilli.

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices, AbsolutePunk.net, Chorus.fm, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.