Culinary artists and scientists alike take advantage of our exquisite ability to taste. In general, our taste buds perceive flavor in four "primary" ways; sweet, sour, bitter and salty. So, where does that leave things like the sense we get when we eat spicy hot things, like chili peppers?
Well, here's something weird. It turns out that we perceive spicy hot not through our taste buds, but rather through pain receptors!
Now, scientists at the University of Texas Dental School are using what they've learned about chili peppers to help relieve pain. Capsaicin is the primary ingredient in chili peppers that causes the burning sensation that many of us enjoy. When we are injured, scientists found that our body produces a compound similar to it, called OLAM. OLAM triggers receptors to make us feel pain, very much like capsaicin does.
By developing techniques to neutralize the OLAMs that our body produces, experts hope that a new way of blocking chronic pain can be developed.
Dr. Kenneth Hargreaves, a senior researcher at University of Texas Dental School, says that "this is a major breakthrough in understanding the mechanisms of pain and how to more effectively treat it."
Chili Peppers and Pain Research