When a teenager removed her gallbladder, her mother believed that spicy snacks were the cause.
"She ate big bags and would take her to school," Rene Craighead told CNN subsidiary WREG, underscoring her daughter's fondness for spicy fries, including Takis.
Her daughter, also known as Rene, told the station that she ate about four bags of hot snacks every week. The 17-year-old high school student suffered abdominal pain, which led to surgeons removing their gallbladder, an operation known as cholecystectomy.
But some doctors responded with some skepticism that spicy food was the culprit.
Can spicy foods cause gallbladder problems?
"I've never heard that spiciness or spices can do that," Dr. Peter Mattei, a general pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who was not involved in Craighead's Concern
The hot feeling of spicy foods comes from a substance called capsaicin, and experts are not aware of the strong evidence who associate it with gallbladder problems like gallstones.
"We know that there are certain things that stimulate the gallbladder, and the main thing is fatty food," said Mattei. "Many spicy foods are also fatty."
The gallbladder is a small organ that sits directly under the liver and stores bile that digests fat. The fat we eat can stimulate the gallbladder to push some of that bile into our guts. But gallstones can block the flow of this digestive fluid, and the contraction of the gallbladder can be very painful.
There may be a genetic component to gallstones in addition to what we eat, Mattei said. Women are known to be more likely to have gallstones than men and obesity may be another factor. But the science behind why some people get gallstones and problems of the gallbladder in a broader sense is not completely set in stone.
"If you have gallstones and you have symptoms of your gallstone, then we usually recommend surgery to remove the gallbladder." Said Mattei. He added that this may prevent a future risk of "acute gallbladder inflammation or pancreatitis, which is even worse".
A statement by Takis said, "We assure you that Takis are safe to eat, but should be enjoyed moderation as part of a balanced diet." The statement also states that the ingredients meet the regulations of the US Food and Drug Administration. "Always check the portion size before snacking," added the statement.
What about ulcers?
Spicy food was also thought ulcers in the past, but Mattei called this "old-fashioned thinking." Most ulcers are known to be caused by a bacterium called H. pylori, whose spread to researchers is still unclear, as well as a response to some anti-inflammatory drugs.
Mattei said that this does not mean that Craighead's testimony should be rejected by those in the medical profession who often rely on patients and family members to better understand their health problems and to find ways for future research. But he does not advise to make hasty judgments.
Otherwise he said, "You miss a lot of nice things in life – like spicy food."
Written by Michael Nedelman for CNN.
The CNN Wire
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