Buffalo wings, Szechuan chicken, and sriracha taste amazing going in.
Not so amazing: feeling those spices come out the next day in the form of burning poop.
When you consume spicy foods, the compounds that give them heat move through your body relatively unchanged. Since they aren’t nutrients, your body doesn’t absorb them, says Luigi Basso, M.D., a specialist in coloproctology and laparoscopic surgery at Sapienza University of Rome in Italy.
That means your poop is laced with spicy particles. “And since the last part of your anal region—your rectum and anus—is lined by cells similar to those in your mouth, spicy foods can burn just as much on the way out as on the way in,” says Dr. Basso. Ouch.
Your biology might be making it worse
This burning poop sensation can happen to anyone, but it’s often worse in people who have certain gastrointestinal issues to begin with. So “make sure you don’t have other things going on that would predispose you to being more sensitive,” says Bruno P. Chumpitazi, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association and director of the neurogastroenterology and motility program at Texas Children’s Hospital.
“A lot of people with irritable bowel syndrome can be overly sensitive to foods,” he says. And spicy foods can engender things like pain and discomfort. Hot foods can also be challenging for people with haemorrhoids or anal fissures, says Dr. Chumpitazi. Those fissures are just like they sound—little tears which tend to be caused by constipation and sometimes even by diarrhoea. Which means you can have burning diarrhoea, too.
How to poop in peace after eating spicy foods
The receptors that alert your brain to the burn are inside your digestive tract, so it’s best to tackle the problem for good from the inside with strategies like these:
Tweak your menu.
Limit spicy foods that are both spicy and fatty, like chicken wings or quesadillas smothered in hot sauce. Excess fat can be a problem because the bile salts your body uses to digest them can irritate the skin around your anus, says Brooks D. Cash, M.D., a professor of medicine at the University of South Alabama.
If you’re not giving up wings any time soon, soak up some of the fatty acids in your gut by taking a fibre supplement before or right after you eat to avoid burning poop, Dr. Cash suggests.
Even better, have a diet that’s consistently high in fibre, says Dr. Chumpitazi. Not only is it good for your health in so many ways, it may prevent constipation, anal fissures, and even haemorrhoids, which may be at the root of the burning poop or burning diarrhoea issue. And until the fibre works, some people find relief from fissures and haemorrhoids by sitting in a warm bath (no soap needed).
Eat chili peppers for 3 weeks straight.
Yes, this strategy is over-the-top. But if you absolutely can’t live without spicy foods—no matter how much discomfort it causes—try eating a lot of them in a short period of time.
If you only eat spicy foods for a couple days, you induce “rectal hypersensitivity”—that burning pain, plus the frequent urge to go number two, says Sutep Gonlachanvit, M.D., chief of the division of gastroenterology at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
“But continuous [spicy food] ingestion for greater than 3 weeks can induce desensitisation—which in turn can reduce rectal sensation,” he says.
In his research, people who consumed 2.1 grams of hot pepper per day—a similar quantity to 1.25 teaspoons of cayenne pepper—experienced this benefit.
In other words, you’re putting your butt through hot pepper bootcamp by training pain receptors in your gut cells to cope with the spices better. It’s a little bit like putting on your shirt in the morning, says Dr. Chumpitazi. “In the beginning, you sense that it’s on. Very quickly, your brain knows the receptors are sending very similar signals. It knows how to process them and it can stop paying attention to those signals over time.”
The trade-off: Deal with a burning butthole forever, or for 3 weeks—and then never again.
Clean your butt.
The receptors are on the inside of your GI tract, so putting something on the outside is unlikely to help in the long run. But as a short-term fix, you could apply a soothing cream to a clean butt—use one such as Calmoseptine ointment, which contains calamine to reduce itching and burning.
“Just apply a dab the size of a dime to the anal opening and create a thin smear,” advises Arnold Wald, M.D., a professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
One more thing: If discomfort lingers after you’ve taken a burning poop, see your doctor. Pain in your butt can be a symptom of more serious problems like an infection, abscess, or cancer, says Steven D. Wexner, M.D., director of the Digestive Disease Centre at Cleveland Clinic Florida.
This article originally appeared on Men’s Health