Science Mysteries, Explained

Will too many hot chili peppers kill you? Is the moon on the verge of erupting? PopSci tackles life's whys, hows and who-dunnits in this Q&A-style; feature

There is no known case of a person dying from eating too many peppers, although several masochists have certainly tested the limits. The reigning king of jalapeño consumption is Nevadan Richard LeFevre, who last October set the International Federation of Competitive Eating record by downing 247 pickled jalapeos in an eight-minute time limit. Looking to top LeFevre and win a place in the Guinness Book of World Records is Anandita Dutta Tamuly, a woman from India who devoured 60 Bhut Jolokia peppers--the hottest pepper in the world--in just two minutes on national television. But she might not have anything on Mexico's Manuel Quiroz, who also wants a shot at the eating record and can squeeze habanero juice into his eyes without blinking. Freakish tolerance levels aside, scientists have found that eating peppers can have medical benefits. Last March, researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles found that the chemical that makes peppers hot, capsaicin, can kill human prostate-cancer cells grown in mice. The scientists estimated that the dosage was equal to a 200-pound man eating three to eight habanero peppers three times a week. But is there a deadly dose of spicy peppers? Researchers at Niigata University School of Medicine in Japan ran tests on mice to find out. After several hefty doses of pure capsaicin, most of the mice died of lung failure. Don't worry, though--you'd have to eat hundreds of thousands of jalapeños in one sitting to get the equivalent dose, and, the LeFevres of the world notwithstanding, most people beg for mercy after a dozen. --Brandon Miller Antonello Turchetti/Getty Images

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