Mon, May 21, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Doctor debunks Japan's`chili pepper diet' myth

DANGEROUS FARE Like many other dietary fads, the chili pepper diet first came to Taiwan from Japan when pop singer Utada Hikari started the sensation

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

A man weighing 101kg ended up with more than a dozen stomach and duodenal ulcers after going on a "chili pepper diet," his doctor said. He had seen on the Internet that eating large amounts of hot peppers aided weight loss.

"He ate large amounts of chili paste mixed with rice three times a day, every day," said Hsiao Tun-jen (蕭敦仁) of Hsiao's Gastroenterology Clinic. "By the third week, his stools had turned black."

The extent of the patient's condition was unusual, Hsiao said.

"I am used to finding one or two ulcers on a typical patient, but his duodenum was covered with at least a dozen ulcers," he said.

After taking appropriate medication and staying away from spicy food, the man has now recovered, Hsiao said.

However, he failed to lose any weight on the chili pepper diet.

Advocates for the chili pepper diet claim that capsaicin, the active ingredient that makes pepper hot, also raises the body's metabolism, thus burning calories.

But Hsiao questioned the gastrointestinal consequences of consuming enough chili peppers to achieve the desired effect.

"Some studies seems to indicate capsaicin does have an effect on metabolism," he said. "But the amount of peppers ingested would have to be massive. The stomach and intestines would not be able to handle it."

Even casual consumption of hot peppers could lead to potential harm, he added, citing another patient who came in after he had accompanied his girlfriend to a restaurant that served ma la huo guo (麻辣火鍋), a popular and potent chili-laden hotpot dish.

That night, the man suffered violent bouts of diarrhea and a subsequent endoscopy showed that his stomach lining had sustained visible damage.

Like many other fads, the chili pepper diet first came to Taiwan from Japan, where pop singer Utada Hikari started the sensation.

"Just do a Web search for `chili pepper' and `weight-loss'," Hsiao said. "The Internet, women's magazines and advertisers all help to start and perpetuate many other dubious `miracle food' myths."

"Exaggerated claims have been made about everything from apples to seaweed jello," he said.

Hsiao said that another case of weigh-loss gone wrong occurred when a 20-year-old woman drank undiluted lemon juice with every meal, which she hoped would help her burn fat and lighten her skin.

"She ended up with severe stomach cramps instead," Hsiao said.

As for yogurt, an item frequently advertised as having a slimming effect, Hsaio said: "It's good for your gastrointestinal health. But sweetened yogurt drinks are usually packed with calories.

"No one miracle item is going to make you slim," he said. "Only lifestyle changes can do that in the long run."

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