The heat is on for the Chilli ME Challenge

3rd July 2015


Feeling hot? You might start feeling even hotter if you take up the Chilli M.E. Challenge. Started by four girls from Ireland, UK and USA, the aim is to spread awareness and raise funds for biomedical research for myalgic encephalomyelitis (M.E.) /chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

Brave participants are posting videos of themselves eating a chilli pepper, making a donation to the charity Invest in ME, and then nominating their friends to do the same.

Invest in ME are a registered charity, who have been raising money to support research into ME, which affects over 200,000 people in the UK. One such project has now started at the Institute of Food Research, on the Norwich Research Park, looking at whether a leaky gut lining and the bacteria that live in our gut play a role in M.E.

Crowdsourcing efforts from Invest in M.E. funded this project, which is taking a biomedical and clinical approach to studying the causes of this condition, working with ME patients. It is being led by Professor Simon Carding from the IFR and the University of East Anglia.

Simon Carding and his research group recently took on the Chilli M.E. Challenge themselves, eating increasingly hot chilli peppers, including the record-breaking Carolina reaper.







“The Chilli M.E. Challenge is a great way for people to not only raise funds to study this debilitating condition, but also raise its profile, and together that will drive us towards finding a cause, and hopefully much needed treatments,” said Prof. Carding. “I quite like hot and spicy food myself!” he added.

More details on how to take part in the Chilli ME Challenge are available on the Facebook page

ChilliChallenge on facebook –

1. Eat spicy pepper or hot sauce (have milk ready)
2. Film your funny REACTION (don’t cut off the reaction!)
3. Dedicate it to an M.E. sufferer
4. Nominate 5 others
(Can’t eat a pepper? Make a “My M.E. Story for ‪#‎chilliMEchallenge” video simply stating M.E. is not psychological and is neurological and/or tell your own M.E. story.)
5. Upload video on social media using hash tag #chilliMEchallenge
6. Donate to M.E. research:

To Donate: UK text CMEC73 to 70070(£4) Ireland text HOT to 50300(€4)

*Info &FAQ:
*Twitter: @MECFS_challenge
*YouTube channel:

With the UK sweating with record high temperatures, the Chilli Challenge for ME may be the last thing you want to do. But the Institute of Food Research has a few tips that might help you stand the heat.

Some people believe hot chillis might help you cool down. Capsaicin, the compound in chillis that gives them their heat, binds to the same receptors that sense temperature, triggering our bodies’ cooling mechanisms. That’s why you sweat after eating hot food, and go red, as the blood vessels move closer to the skin’s surface to release heat. The same receptors are also responsible for sensing when we burn, hence the pain associated with eating chillis. But if there wasn’t a bit of discomfort, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge. These receptors aren’t found further down in the stomach or gastrointestinal tract, so the burning is usually localised in the mouth.

Capsaicin itself is produced in the pithy tissue that surrounds the seeds, so this part, and the seeds are the hottest part of the chilli. So you could try avoiding these, though that might be cheating the challenge.

Capsaicin is an irritant, so please be careful not to rub your eyes if preparing chillis in foods. It can linger on your hands for a while afterwards.

And the big question – what should you eat after a hot chilli to beat the burn?

Capsaicin doesn’t dissolve well in water, so water may not help as much as you would think, apart from to cool down the receptors. Capsaicin does dissolve a bit better in alcohol, but unfortunately beers aren’t strong enough to have any affect – so why not donate the price of a pint to the Chilli Challenge for ME instead?

Capsaicin does, however, dissolve in fats, so a little bit of fatty food might be better – yogurt is worth trying. It’s also the basis for the traditional curry accompaniment raita. Milk also seems to work, as it contains a fat-loving protein called casein. This surrounds the capsaicin molecules, acting in the same way as a detergent, and separating the capsaicin from the receptors.

One final fact – capsaicin isn’t totally broken down during digestion, which means it can still bind to receptors in the skin and cause a burning sensation at the very, very end…

Related People

Related Targets

Targeting ME/CFS

ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Related Research Groups

Carding group

Simon Carding