If you love spicy food, then you’ve probably experienced hiccups caused by those spicy foods. But what causes this, and why are some people more affected than others?

Short answer, we simply do not know. But there are some theories we can dive into below.

What causes hiccups in general?

Hiccups are involuntary contractions of the diaphragm — the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen and plays an important role in breathing. To put it simply, a hiccup is basically a spasm of both your diaphragm and vocal cords. Each contraction is followed by a sudden closure of your vocal cords, which produces the characteristic “hic” sound. Hiccups can start without any specific reason and disappear in a few minutes.

So why does spicy food cause hiccups?

Scientists are still speculating about the precise mechanism responsible for hiccups in general, which still remains unclear, but there are some theories out there.

Chile peppers contain capsaicin which can activate neurons in the diaphragm, causing the diaphragm to contract producing hiccups. Spicy food can also cause us to belch and this again causes distention of the stomach and irritation of the diaphragm, resulting in hiccups.

The other feasible cause could be that spicy food increases acid production in the stomach, irritating the nerves that are involved in the hiccup reflex.

Why do some people get hiccups while other aren’t not bothered?

Why do some of us start to hiccup at the mere sight of a chili, while others don’t seem to be bothered by spicy foods at all?

It is possible to build up a tolerance to chili peppers through repeated exposure to capsaicin. Check out my very in-depth article here on just that subject.

The key is our TRPV1 receptors, allowing us to get used to eating spicier food. Differences in number and distribution of this capsaicin receptor can contribute to our response to spicy food. Tolerance to spicy can occur through repeated exposure to capsaicin.