By Julie Stewart
Buffalo wings, Szechuan chicken, and McSpicy burgers taste amazing going in.
Not so amazing: feeling those spices come out the next day.
When you consume spicy foods, the compounds that give them heat move through your body relatively unchanged. Since they aren’t nutrients, your body doesn’t absorb them, says Luigi Basso, M.D., a specialist in coloproctology and laparoscopic surgery at Sapienza University of Rome in Italy.
That means your poop is laced with spicy particles. “And since the last part of your anal region—your rectum and anus—is lined by cells similar to those in your mouth, spicy foods can burn just as much on the way out as on the way in,” says Dr. Basso.
This can happen to anyone, but people with irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, or other gastrointestinal issues may be more prone to the pain.
Yes, biology is cruel, but don’t let it stop you from enjoying your favorite spicy foods. Follow these tips to poop in peace after your Cajun shrimp.
1. Tweak your menu.
Limit foods that are both spicy and fatty, like chicken wings or quesadillas smothered in hot sauce. Excess fat can be a problem because the bile salts your body uses to digest them can irritate the skin around your anus, says Brooks D. Cash, M.D., a professor of medicine at the University of South Alabama.
If you’re not giving up wings any time soon, soak up some of the fatty acids in your gut by taking a fiber supplement with psyllium before or right after you eat, Dr. Cash suggests.
Metamucil, which contains psyllium, is the most-recommended fiber supplement by pharmacists, according to a recent survey from the American Pharmacists Association.
2. Clean your butt.
This may be a totally ridiculous thing to tell a grown man, but you’ll want to keep your butt as clean and dry as possible if your anus regularly burns or itches after eating spicy foods, says Steven D. Wexner, M.D., director of the Digestive Disease Center at Cleveland Clinic Florida.
Wash with a mild soap and warm water. Once it’s clean, apply a soothing cream, like Calmoseptine ointment, which contains calamine and will reduce itching and burning.
“Just apply a dab the size of a dime to the anal opening and create a thin smear,” advises Arnold Wald, M.D., a professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
One more thing: If discomfort lingers, see your doctor. Pain in your butt can be a symptom of more serious problems like an infection, fissure, abscess, or cancer, says Dr. Wexner.
3. Eat chili peppers for 3 weeks straight.
Yes, this strategy is far-fetched. But it’s for the guy who absolutely can’t live without his spicy foods—no matter how much discomfort it causes.
If you only eat spicy foods for a couple days, you induce “rectal hypersensitivity”—that burning pain, plus the frequent urge to go number two, says Sutep Gonlachanvit, M.D., chief of the division of gastroenterology at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
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“But continuous [spicy food] ingestion for greater than 3 weeks can induce desensitization—which in turn can reduce rectal sensation,” he says.
In his research, people who consumed 2.1 grams of hot pepper per day—a similar quantity to 1.25 teaspoons of cayenne pepper—experienced this benefit.
In other words, you’re putting your butt through hot pepper bootcamp by training pain receptors in your gut cells to cope with the spices better. The trade-off: Deal with a burning butthole forever, or for 3 weeks—and then never again.