Increasing Tolerance for Spicy Foods

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Q:  Hi Dave,

I will be moving to Thailand in a few months and would like to increase my tolerance for spicy foods before I go. So my question is this: Is the increase in the amount of capsaicin that I can tolerate caused by repeated and increased exposure of spicy foods on the tongue, or in the digestive tract? If the answer is ’tongue’ then I will have to eat more and more spicy foods, but if the answer is ’digestive tract’ then I could likely take cayenne caplets every day to increase my tolerance to a degree.

Thanks for your help,



A:  Hello Dan:

This entirely depends on the individual’s response to capsaicin.  Some people react to capsaicin in their digestive tract with a burning sensation in their stomach or intestines—this has never happened to me.  I’m not sure if taking cayenne capsules would build up a tolerance or not, but it’s worth a try.  The body is an amazing thing and you just might increase your tolerance.  Regarding the mouth and tongue, this is where most people want to increase their tolerance, and repeated exposure to hotter foods will do this up to a point.  Most people reach a certain level of tolerance where they like the heat level and simply stay there.  This level has to do with the number of capsaicin receptors in your mouth and on your tongue. The fewer you have, the more heat you can take. All of this is analogous to allergies, and the varying degrees of individual sensitivity to what the body perceives as "alien invaders"—pollen, dust, the oil from poison ivy plants, etc.

Hope this helps,


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