According to the researchers, eating spicy food can spike the symptoms of a chronic bladder condition that causes pelvic pain.
Earlier it was believed that the spike in the symptoms was triggered when digesting the foods produced chemicals in the urine that irritated the bladder.
However, now scientists from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine have revealed that it's the colon, irritated by the spicy food, that's responsible for the "painful bladder syndrome," or interstitial cystitis.
The latest discovery may now tell how the body actually "hears" pelvic pain and opens the doors for new treatment possibilities for this condition.
During a flare up, the pelvic pain is so intense some women inject anesthetic lidocaine directly into their bladders to get relief. Patients typically also feel an urgent need to urinate up to 50 times a day and are afraid to leave their homes in case they can't find a bathroom. Some even go to the extent of attempting suicide because of depression.
"This disease has a devastating effect on people's lives. It affects people's relationships with family and friends," Nature quoted David Klumpp, principal investigator and assistant professor of urology at the Feinberg School, as saying.
In study on rodents, it was found that colon's central role in the pain is caused by the wiring of pelvic organ nerves. Nerves from the bladder, colon and prostate are bunched together like telephone wires and plugged into the same region of the spinal cord near the tailbone.
People with interstitial cystitis have bladder nerves that are constantly transmitting pain signals to the spinal cord: a steady beep, beep, beep.
However, when the colon is irritated by pepperoni pizza or another type of food, colon nerves also send a pain signal to the same area on the spinal chord. This new signal is the tipping point. It ratchets up the pain message to a chorus of BEEPEEPBEEPBEEP!
"It was known that there was cross talk between organs, but until now no one had applied the idea to how pain signals affect this real world disease, how the convergence of these two information streams could make these bladder symptoms worse," said Klumpp, who also is an assistant professor of microbiology-immunology at the Feinberg School.
According to the findings, the bladder pain can be treated rectally with an anaesthetic in a suppository or gel.
Another possibility, said Klumpp, is an anaesthetic patch applied to pelvic skin. Studies in back pain show anaesthetic patches applied to the skin can reduce back pain.
"We imagine a similar kind of patch might be used to relieve pelvic pain, which might be the best solution of all," he noted.
The paper is published in the latest issue of Nature Clinical Practice Urology.