Weird Medicine

Alcohol Burns On The Way Down Because Ethanol Makes Heat Receptors In Mouth More Sensitive

Tequila
Alcohol is weird. Pixabay

Does your throat burn when you shoot back shots of tequila? You're not alone. According to SciShow host Hank Green, there’s a physiological reason for the hot, eye-watering sensation.

Green said a shot of tequila feels hot because it messes with a heat receptor in the mouth and throat called VR1. When we taste anything with a high temperature, it triggers VR1, which sends a message to your nerves that they’re detecting something hot. This message eventually makes its way to the brain, and results in a burning or painful sensation.

Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, also activates heat receptors, albeit a little differently than ethanol. While ethanol makes heat receptors more sensitive, capsaicin directly tells receptors the pepper is really hot. Somewhat related: if you can take the heat, separate research shows chili peppers may promote weight loss.

Anything warmer than 42 degrees feels hot, but ethanol lowers that threshold to just 34 degrees, and your body temperature is around 37 degrees, Green said. So it’s not the alcohol — it’s you.

Watch the video above for more details on why alcohol burns when you drink it.

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