Eating world’s hottest pepper sparks brain disorder, thunderclap headaches
In 2013, the Carolina Reaper—a cross between Sweet Habanero and Naga Viper chilies—clocked in at 1,569,300 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), a unit of measure for a chili’s spiciness. In 2017, the Carolina Reaper took the title again, with a pepper grown in South Carolina that measured 1,641,183 SHUs.
An otherwise healthy 34-year-old man developed a blood-flow disorder in his brain and suffered several debilitating “thunderclap” headaches after entering a hot pepper eating contest, US doctors reported.
Based on this—and the lack of other problems—the doctors diagnosed him with reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS), a rare cerebrovascular condition caused by tightening of blood vessels in the brain and marked by a series of thunderclap headaches.
Patients with RCSV tend to recover completely over time, and it’s not always clear what causes the recovery in the first place. Certain medications and illicit drugs have been linked to it in the past, but some cases seem idiosyncratic.
“Given the development of symptoms immediately after exposure to a known vasoactive substance, it is plausible that our patient had RCVS secondary to the ‘Carolina Reaper,’” the doctors concluded.
The only treatment for RCVS is observation and ditching whatever the suspected offending substance was—in this case the chili pepper. With supportive care, the man had no other thunderclap headaches and a scan five weeks afterward found that artery tightening had resolved itself.