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Thursday, January 13, 2011

My bvFTD - The Weirdest Side Effect Of All And Some Hot Sauce For Christmas

“Eating highly seasoned food is unhealthful, because it stimulates too much, provokes the appetite too much, and often is indigestible.
- Catharine E. Beecher, 'Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book' (1846)
Naga Jolokia Peppers!
I have had a really odd side-effect appear over the past couple months. I am assuming that it is a side-effect rather than a symptom of bvFTD, but there is no way to know for sure other than to discontinue my medications, and see if it goes away. Since it is not too much of a bother, and I don't want to have to re-acclimatize myself to the medications all over again, I will pass on that little experiment. This curious mind doesn't want to know that badly - at least not yet. I first noticed this odd phenomenon shortly after having started taking Aricept, and then introducing the alternative medicines Ginkgo Biloba, Melatonin, Lion's Mane Extract, and Phosphotydlsilene. I have searched all over the Internet, and can find no reference to any known interactions of this type. Go figure!

So what is this odd effect? Don't laugh! I am more sensitive to hot spicy food. It makes my nose run, my eyes tear, and my forehead sweat.

For anyone who thinks Tobasco Sauce is too hot this may not seem very odd at all, but this sudden sensitivity to heat is a huge change for me. I have enjoyed hot spicy foods for many years. For me a Cayenne Pepper is certainly hot, but enjoyable. Tobasco Sauce isn't hot enough, and has too much vinegar. A Habenero Pepper is too hot for me. That means that all except the very hotest spicy foods made with Habenero Peppers caused me no difficulty. I never got the watery eyes, runny nose, and sweaty forehead from anything exept a Habenero - with the exception of a single Hungarian Wax Pepper Plant I grew in my garden which produced the hottest fiery peppers I, or anyone else who was brave enough, had ever tasted. The burn lasted for hours, and nothing helped to alleviate it. I wish I would have tried to grow more from the seeds. Anyway, the point is that I ate hot foods all the time. I loved Hot Wings, and ate them every couple weeks. Szhechuan Chinese was never too hot.

Hot peppers taste hot (pungent) because they contain capsaicinoids. There are actually 6 different chemicals which cause that burning feeling in the mouth when eating hot peppers, though only 5 of them occur in nature. I had always suspected this, but didn't know until recently. It explains the different hot sensations of the various peppers. Some are hot right away on the tip of the tongue, while some build slowly more to the back. Different kinds of peppers affect different areas of the mouth. This adds to the interest and flavors of hot peppers because the different ratios of the capsaicinoids is what makes the heat taste and feel different. There is more to a hot pepper than just the heat.

That heat in a pepper is concentrated in the white pith surrounding the seeds, though it occurs throughout. It is theorized that it evolved to keep mammals from eating the seeds. Mammals have teeth which grind and destroy the seed, and mammals can taste the heat so avoid the peppers. Birds pass the seeds undamaged and undigested spreading them around, and do not have any taste receptors for the heat. Makes sense to me!

People have a wide spectrum of sensitivity to capsaicin depending on the number of taste buds they posses which are specifically attuned to it. Some people are like birds, and cannot taste the heat of hot peppers at all while others have difficulty with even a trace amount. Most people are "tasters", and fall somewhere in the middle. As for me, I consider myself lucky to be a "taster". I can enjoy the taste and feel of a good hot pepper, though I won't win any bets of the, "I can eat this!" variety. I enjoy hot peppers.

I still enjoy hot peppers. I can still tolerate the heat just as I could before. It is no more or less uncomfortable in my mouth than it ever was. But now my eyes water, my nose runs, and my forehead sweats!

I ordered a plate of hot wings while out with one of my favorite sons a couple weeks ago. The hot wings were delicious, but it was embarrassing. I was a sweaty, teary, runny-nosed mess as I blinked, and wiped, and sniffed my way through them. Even the waitress got a chuckle out of it.

So, just how bad is it? Well - I had the exact same problems with the sauce on a shrimp cocktail. Now, if there was even any pepper in it, I couldn't taste it. I did taste the normal spicy goodness of the horseradish, but that was all. All of a sudden my eyes started watering, my nose started running, and my forehead broke out in a sweat. My date for the evening got a good laugh out of it.

So, I told you that, so I could tell you this. My friend of many years duration has always known my love of hot spicy foods. One Christmas he got me a subscription to a magazine dedicated to hot chili's, and hot sauces, loaded with recipes, and fun information. Yes, I may have at times carried it to extremes, and decorated my whole kitchen in a chili pepper theme, but in my defense it was rather popular at the time. I was surprised just before Christmas this year when a large box appeared on my porch. The tracks leading away in the snow instantly identified the mailman as the culprit, and fhe label identified my friend as the sender of the package.

I opened the box on Christmas day to find a great assortment of hot pepper sauces. A few were obviously selected for their "interesting" names, but there was this one. I looked at it, and it was rather plain. Could it be?

The label read simply, "Melinda's Naga Jolokia Sauce". Maybe! Upon reading the fine print it was indeed the Naga Jolokia Pepper from India, also sometimes known as the Ghost Pepper, Naga Morich, or the Bhut (Bhot) Jolokia. It grows in the Indian states of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur, and the Sylhet region of Bangladesh. It can also be found in rural Sri Lanka where it is known as Nai Mirris (cobra chili). Now ya know.

In 2004 a rating of 1,041,427 Scoville Heat Units was made using HPLC analysis by India's Defence Research Laboratory (DRL). For comparison, Tabasco red pepper sauce rates at 2,500–5,000, and pure capsaicin (the chemical responsible for the pungency of pepper plants) rates at 15,000,000–16,000,000 Scoville units. This stuff can cause chemical burns, and can also be fatal. It is a very potent chemical, and must be treated with caution.

In 2005, at New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Institute near Las Cruces, New Mexico, regents Professor Paul Bosland found Bhut Jolokia grown from seed in southern New Mexico to have a Scoville rating of 1,001,304 SHU by HPLC.[4]

In February 2007, Guinness World Records published that the Naga Jolokia was the hottest chili pepper ever submitted for judgment. (This is no longer the hottest pepper in the world. Those silly Brits developed a hybrid of it called the Naga Viper, which is even hotter, and the hottest pepper ever recorded is something called a Dorset Naga Pepper, a type of Scotch Bonnet pepper). None of those other peppers have been submitted to Guinness, so The Naga Jolokia gets the title. The difference is less than 10%, and at the level of heat these peppers have I doubt anyone could tell the difference. I sure couldn't!

But I digress - again. So there I was, sitting in my living room, with a bottle of the hottest pepper sauce in the wolrld in my hand. I read the label out loud, and silence fell on the room when I got to the part about 1,041,427 Scoville Units compared to a Habenero's mere half-million or so.

I looked at my son. My son looked at me. We smiled in instant agreement. Curious minds had to know!

I carefully shook it up, and then opened the bottle like I was handling a hand grenade. I placed a drop about the size of a pinhead on my fingertip. My son did the same. The onlookers sat in hushed wonder at our foolishness.

At the count of three, we both tasted. Yum! What a wonderful peppery flavor! It was rich and complex, and hot. I looked at my son, and smiled. He smiled back. There was a couple seconds there where the flavors of the pepper were very pleasant, then the heat of the capsaicinoids started to build. It spread. I looked at my son, and his eyes were wide open like he had just hit his thumb with a hammer. I smiled. I ran into the kitchen, and grabbed the milk jug out of the refrigerator. I gulped, but it didn't even phase the hot burning sensations. My son did the same. There was raucous laughter coming from my living room. There was plenty of laughter in the kitchen, too, but it was punctuated by snorts and gasps of mouth-burning pain.  Well, after a few minutes the pain subsided to a level equal to a hot poker being applied liberally to the tongue. My speech was slurred because my tongue wouldn't work right for about the next hour. It was quite an experience. My son and I both survived tasting the "Hottest Pepper In The World!"

As soon as the tip of my tongue grows back, I can't wait to try some more!

Scoville heat units           Examples
15,000,000–16,000,000     Pure capsaicin
8,600,000–9,100,000        Various capsaicinoids (e.g., homocapsaicin,
                                            homodihydrocapsaicin, nordihydrocapsaicin)
5,000,000–5,300,000     Law enforcement grade pepper spray, FN 303 irritant ammunition
855,000–1,359,000     Naga Viper pepper, Naga Jolokia pepper (ghost chili)
350,000–580,000     Red Savina habanero
100,000–350,000     Guntur chilli, Habanero chili, Scotch bonnet pepper, Datil pepper, Rocoto,
                                Piri piri (African bird's eye), Madame Jeanette, Jamaican hot pepper
50,000–100,000             Bird's eye chili, Malagueta pepper, Chiltepin pepper, Pequin pepper
30,000–50,000             Cayenne pepper, Ají pepper, Tabasco pepper, Cumari pepper (Capsicum Chinese)
10,000–23,000             Serrano pepper, Peter pepper
2,500–8,000             Jalapeño pepper, Guajillo pepper, New Mexican varieties of Anaheim pepper,
                             Paprika (Hungarian wax pepper), Tabasco sauce
500–2,500             Anaheim pepper, Poblano pepper, Rocotillo pepper, Peppadew
100–500             Pimento, Peperoncini
0                        No significant heat, Bell pepper, Cubanelle, Aji dulce

Oh, and yes, my eyes teared, my nose ran, and my forehead was all sweaty, but that went away after a few days. It was worth it.

Comments are welcome.


  1. They did not "run" to the kitchen, they were a blurrrrr as they tried to climb over one another getting to the kitchen. And yes, it was hilarious!

  2. Thanks, Melinda, but as I remember it my son and I both strolled casually toward the kitchen. I believe I may have stopped to read the mail on the way. There was no rush. No panting, or screaming. No pushing, or scrambling for the milk jug. Nope! Just a slow casual stroll... that's my story, and I'm stickin to it!

  3. My only comment is that I haven't seen Lee move that fast in years!!! I think he and his son were trying do quantum leaps to get to the milk jug. Har!

  4. I would blame it on the FTD, not the meds. I was just diagnosed with bvFTD and something I have noticed is that I have developed an aversion to vegetables, esp. cruciferous ones. In the past, I have loved them and was even a vegetarian for awhile. Now I literally gag when I try to eat them. My taste buds have totally changed. Pass the cookies.