Millions of drunken revellers know it instinctively that beer and a curry is a perfect combination, but researchers claim that people who like spicy food are more likely to have alcohol problems.
In a series of experiments, Sung-Gon Kim, a psychiatry professor from Busan National University in South Korea, has found the link between spicy food and alcohol comes down to the way both stimulate our brain’s reward systems.
Professor Kim found that not only are people who are dependent on alcohol more likely to enjoy eating spicy food, but that medication to treat alcohol problems is more effective in people who prefer a bit of spice with their meals.
He said that both spicy food and alcohol stimulate the opioid receptors in the brain, triggering the release of naturally occurring endorphins. “In the people who prefer spicy food, the opioid system is easily activated by drink or spicy foods,” the Age quoted Professor Kim as saying, in Australia for the Australian Neuroscience Society annual meeting this week.
When he gave two groups of drinkers a drug called naltrexone, which blocks the opioid reward system, he also found it was effective in the people who preferred spicy food, but not in the other group.
“Naltrexone blocks the opioid system’s activation which is initiated by drinking; they do not feel the pleasure any more if they keep taking the medication,” he said.