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Chili pepper during pregnancy

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Pregnancy and Chili Pepper

Chili pepper during pregnancy: introduction

Can you eat chilli pepper during pregnancy? Yes of course.

Why do some believe that chilli pepper is contraindicated during pregnancy? Above all due to the fear that capsaicin, the molecule responsible for the “spicy” reaction, could have serious side effects on the fetus. These are unfounded fears even if, as always, pregnant women are advised to respect the criterion of reasonableness.

General information on chilli pepper

Chili pepper is a vegetable native to the South American continent, naturalized practically throughout the world, used as a spice and more rarely as a side dish. It has a good nutritional content but the portions are generally small and not very significant.

Dangers of diet during pregnancy: general information

Pregnancy is a very delicate special physiological condition. During gestation, any maternal complications can have a negative impact on the health of the unborn child; this is why it is always essential to respect some safety rules regarding the diet during pregnancy.

Among the various factors to keep an eye on we remember:

  • Parasitosis, food poisoning, poisoning (fungal, bacterial toxins), infections that evolve into septicemia, etc.
  • Chemical or contaminant poisoning (pollutants, pesticides, etc.)
  • Nutritional deficiencies that can alter the development of the fetus, bring forward birth or cause its death
  • Nutritional excesses that can have similar effects to deficiencies
  • Intake of toxic, poisonous, stimulant or inhibitory factors, generally of vegetal origin, which can promote uterine contractions and bring forward childbirth, compromise fetal development, etc.

Contraindications

Too much chili pepper can be bad for you!

In Central America, South America and South East Asia, pregnant women consume large quantities of chili peppers without apparently having any major complications. Is it the result of genetic environmental adaptation? We cannot know, which is why we reiterate to all future mothers to respect a certain “safety margin”.

If we exclude the cases mentioned above, the statistics suggest that excessive portions and frequencies of consumption of chilli pepper can have quite a few side effects.

The factors in chili pepper that can interact negatively with the human organism are mainly of a nutritional nature; in particular:

  • Capsaicin: responsible for the spicy taste
  • Provitamins A: responsible for the red color.

Capsaicin from chilli pepper during pregnancy

Capsaicin is an alkaloid capable of promoting sensations of “hotness”, heat-burning and sometimes pain, on the mucous membranes and skin. It also exerts a vasodilating effect on arterial and capillary vascular smooth muscles.

Chili pepper, constipation, hemorrhoids and anal fissures

Many argue that the capsaicin in chilli peppers favors the onset and worsening of discomfort in the hemorrhoidal plexus, located between the anus and the rectum; however, the evidence in this regard is quite weak. However, it is plausible that it hypersensitises the mucous membranes, increasing suffering in the case of pre-existing pathologies, such as the enlargement of the haemorrhoidal plexus or the formation of bleeding fissures. Some people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome experience diarrhea after eating chili pepper, while others experience constipation.

During pregnancy the expectant mother's body undergoes some adaptations; among the most “annoying” we mention the modification of the venous circulation and the alteration of intestinal transit. This leads to a greater tendency to constipation, inflammation of the hemorrhoid plexus and the formation of bleeding anal fissures.

In light of what has been said so far, it would be reasonable to hypothesize that too much chili pepper could negatively affect the health of the pregnant woman.

Chili pepper and induced labor: is it a hoax?

The presumed contractile action of capsaicin on the musculature of the uterus is different.

In the past, mothers who passed their due date were advised to eat lots of chili pepper to facilitate labor, as it was believed that capsaicin induced an increase in uterine contractions. This hypothesis, in addition to being unjustified, is also generally incorrect. In fact, it seems that spicy foods, in addition to being totally harmless for the muscles of the uterus, can promote the modest release of endorphins with a calming action.

Provitamin A from chilli pepper during pregnancy

Chili pepper is very rich in vitamin A, consisting mainly of retinol equivalents (RAE, especially carotenoids). These nutrients, essential for maintaining general health, should not, however, be consumed in excessive quantities.

Chili pepper, vitamin A and teratogenesis

Daily doses exceeding 30 mg of RAE could exert a teratogenic effect on the fetus, causing serious congenital defects such as irreversible malformations. It is therefore advisable not to exceed 3 mg (3000 RAE, i.e. 10,000 IU) of RAE per day.

According to the tables of the National Research Institute for Food and Nutrition, 100 grams of red chili pepper (the one that contains the most) provides 824 µg of RAE (corresponding to 0.824 mg). This means that, to be at risk, a pregnant woman would have to consume over 3.5 kg of red chili pepper per day. A safe serving of red chili pepper would be 350 g/day.

Conclusions

Chili pepper during pregnancy: yes or no?

Normal quantities of chili pepper during pregnancy have no medical contraindications. However, it is necessary to consider that capsaicin aggravates the painful symptoms of inflamed hemorrhoids and anal fissures. It can also aggravate irritable bowel syndrome by worsening, in a small percentage of cases, the tendency to constipation and favoring the appearance of hemorrhoids and anal fissures.

Chili pepper does not favor uterine contractions in any way, nor does it anticipate labor.

Chili pepper is very rich in provitamin A but not to the point of increasing the risk of teratogenesis. It is different for women who take RAE-based food supplements; in this case large quantities of chilli pepper could contribute to unwanted reactions on the fetus during gestation.

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