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September 6, 2006 - Guyuan, China

8-methyl N-vanillyl 6-nonamide

La jiao A few nights ago I ordered la tiao from a place across the street. They also call it chow mien - but for some reason I’m embarrassed to order it by that name. It feels so Western.

Perhaps they mistook my order. Perhaps they thought I said la jiao, the red chile sauce1, rather than la tiao. It’s happened once before.

The first time I asked for it, they brought me out a raw green pepper rather than the ground chili sauce. Confusion and laughs all around.

The bowl of noodles looked especially red when it came, but I dismissed it as more tomatoes than usual. I prepared to dig in by peeling a clove of the raw garlic that is always on the tables.

It was hot - spicy - but the heat didn’t kick in until half-way through the bowl.

As I payed I was sweating a bit. When I hit the street I felt a bit like I had a couple beers under my belt.

And it felt good.

Hello capsaicin.

It registered that somewhere I had read about peppers and endorphins - the bodies defense to pain - in this case caused by a potent peppery heat.

“…receptors in our skin [in this case, my tongue] are stimulated by an outside source. This induces the receptors to send electrical signals up our spinal cord and into the brain, providing the ‘noxious stimulus’ needed for the brain to release the B-endorphins. The endorphins then bind at opiate receptor sites of neurons to mediate pain.”2

Here come the dopamines!

“When there is an increased concentration of B-endorphins (an opioid agonist), this stimulates the dopaminergic system to release more dopamine, which activates the reward circuit. This reward circuit is also known as the limbic system area, which runs in the brain from the ventral tegmentum, to the nucleus acumbens.”

Can we say “reward circuit” again?

“Activation of the VTA dopamine (DA) system may produce reinforcing effects in general because … [of] … DA release in the NAC. The NAC also appears to have a major role in brain reward mechanisms… rodents will self-infuse a variety of drugs of abuse (e.g. amphetamine, morphine, phencyclidine and cocaine) into the NAC3

Maybe not directly into the brain, but self-infuse is right.

Wo yao!

» Footnotes
  1. Ground hot pepper/chili sauce mixed with a bit of oil, usually found on tables along with a roll of toilet paper and a basket of unpeeled raw garlic.«
  2. Unnamed. “The Relationship Between Capsaicin And It’s Intera.” Berkeley Peer Review, Undated.
    link «
  3. McBride WJ, Murphy JM, Ikemoto S. “Localization of brain reinforcement mechanisms: intracranial self-administration and intracranial place-conditioning studies.” Behav Brain Res 1999 Jun; 101(2):129-52

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