‘I Thought I Might Go Blind’

Doc’s note: Today I’m turning over my letter to my research assistant, Amanda Cuocci. She shares a story about the importance of keeping a cool head in a crisis… and the importance of reading Retirement Millionaire.

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The pain was excruciating.

A few nights ago, I cut up a poblano pepper for dinner. A poblano is still relatively low on the Scoville scale of heat for chili peppers – not nearly as hot as a jalapeno, but hotter than a pepperoncini.

I did all the proper things to core it and remove the seeds… But as I started to slice it into strips, the pepper shot some of its juice directly into my left eye.

And as any level-headed researcher would do… I panicked. I did the worst thing possible – I tried to wash it off with water. That made the stinging heat intensify.

That’s when I remembered a recent line from our newsletter Retirement Millionaire: Use olive oil.

You see, although hot peppers make your throat feel like it’s burning (or your eyes, in my case), they don’t damage your cells. The substance responsible is capsaicin. It might surprise you that it’s an ingredient in some pain-relief products. Higher amounts create a burning sensation despite no damage occurring. In simple terms, the capsaicin directly interacts with a receptor called the vanilloid receptor, or TRPV1. TRPV1 helps us regulate our body temperatures. When capsaicin triggers it, your brain thinks your tongue is actually on fire.

TRPV1 exists not only on our tongues, but also our skin (including the entire eyelid). It also triggers the release of noradrenaline and dopamine. That’s why many people love to eat peppers… After the initial pain, you experience this release of feel-good chemicals.

An easy way to relieve the heat… eat or drink some fat. Capsaicin molecules don’t carry any electrical charge. (That means capsaicin is what’s known as a “nonpolar compound.”) Water, however, is a polar molecule, and polar and nonpolar substances don’t mix. Thus, water won’t carry the capsaicin out of your mouth and throat (or in my case, my eye socket). But fatty foods, like milk or ice cream, dissolve the capsaicin, making it easy to carry away from your skin.

And you know what else is nonpolar? Olive oil. We even recommend olive oil to get pepper residue off your hands while cooking for this reason.

Some olive oil on a paper towel helped me get the burning residue out of my eye, and I could feel the heat leaving it. In a few minutes, I could open my eye and see without much trouble.

A poblano pepper is about 2,000 Scoville units. Pepper spray, on the other hand, is as high as five million units. And although at the time I thought I’d go blind, I learned that’s an extreme reaction. Even pepper spray can’t permanently damage your eye unless you have an allergy to the pepper or receive repeated exposure.

In fact, one study from the University of Helsinki found that although you may suffer sensitivity for about a week, exposure to the concentrated form of capsaicin won’t damage your cornea tissue.

And, as longtime readers know, capsaicin helps regulate our immune systems. Some studies even found it has anticancer properties and shuts down inflammation.

What’s more, according to a new study out of the University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy in Laramie, capsaicin could trigger weight loss.

The idea is that fat cells also contain these TRPV1 receptors. And turning them on in fat cells could mean burning calories instead of storing them as extra fat.

Researchers developed a compound made from capsaicin that produced these results in mice. Over about eight months, the mice had better blood sugar, insulin response (important for preventing diabetes), and fewer symptoms of fatty-liver disease. In other words, they had no fat mice.

The problem here is that this is a compound made in the lab, not in actual peppers. Since our stomachs can’t break down capsaicin all that well, we can’t just gorge ourselves on peppers hoping to lose weight.

The more important finding here was that the mice had fewer symptoms of fatty liver. Other studies also pointed to regular capsaicin as promoting a certain protein in the liver to help fight this terrible disease.

Given the benefits of peppers, it won’t hurt you to enjoy some of these hot foods in your next meal. Just consider wearing glasses if you need to cut one.

If you want to read more about the pain-fighting power of olive oil, and dozens of other tips to help you live a healthier life, subscribe to Retirement Millionaire right here.

What We’re Reading…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Amanda Cuocci with Dr. David Eifrig
July 24, 2018