The End Of My Love Affair With Red Pepper

I loved the spice, but the chronic cough was killing me.

For at least two decades, I’ve had a chronic cough. I’ve spent many hundreds of dollars seeking relief with doctors, quacks, and home remedies. Nothing seemed to work. I’ve tried all manner of cough drops, nasal irrigation, medication and just changing my habits. Year after year, nothing seemed to work.

To find a remedy I knew that I had to change my diet. I have made many changes over the years to see if I could get some relief there, too. I’ve tried eliminating many different types of food to see what would happen. Corn chips, potato chips, anything fried, chocolate, butter, bananas, peanuts, and flour all seemed to play a part in it. But nothing I removed from my diet truly nailed the cough.

I’ve worked with a gastroenterologist to come up with a solution. He gave me a prescription for Nexium. I was still the same. I saw no relief whatsoever. For a while there, I was feeling kind of despondent. I began to worry that I would not make it past 60. I worried that I would get depressed over my cough to the point that life would not seem worth it anymore.

So I did some time travel. I went through my memories, trying to remember a time before the cough came. I remembered a life free from a persistent cough, and I asked myself what changed. For years before I got married, I’d come home from work, lay on the couch, read Car and Driver Magazine, and eat these great corn chips from Mother’s Market. Was that it? I don’t think so.

I had a habit of eating Indian food, too. That wasn’t it. Soda pop? Ginger Beer? Rice? I went through everything that I could think of that might cause this cough to hang with me. And then one morning, it came to me as I was just beginning to rouse from sleep. Red pepper.

Somewhere around 1990, I discovered this stir fry dish in a cookbook from Sunset Magazine. It was called, “Indonesian Bami”. I learned how to make it from the recipe and then I began to modify it to my own liking. One of the ingredients was red pepper. I got really good at making a big batch, divide the batch into containers and then I’d nuke one for dinner each day. Life was so simple then.

I used red pepper in moderation then, too. I didn’t have this cough then, either. My diet evolved. I became a vegetarian for about 10 years. I changed my habit from making batches for the freezer to cooking rice fresh every day. I’d start with one cup of short grain brown rice, 2 cups of water and cook. I’d break up cauliflower and broccoli into pieces and put that on top of the rice to steam it for 10 minutes. I learned much later that this allowed the rice to capture the nutrients from the veggies.

When it was all done, I’d add Spike and some red pepper. I developed a tolerance for red pepper. I really came to like red pepper. When I was young I didn’t like spicy food. As a man in my late 20s, I got an introduction to spicy foods at Indian restaurants. Then in my 30s, I took a shine to spice.

I remember cutting my finger once in the kitchen. I went to my neighbor for some help dressing the cut. They put some red pepper on the cut to help it heal and disinfect it. Wow. Red pepper is healthy. I could eat more of it. Until I could no longer stand it.

Over the years since then, I developed a persistent cough. I had a theory that my rice meals were too big and that they had compromised my esophageal sphincter, but that theory didn’t explain my experience when I cut my portion size. Red pepper was a better match. Nothing I’ve tried since to stop the cough has worked except abstinence from red pepper. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I don’t even drink coffee. I’m in pretty good shape for my age relative to my peers. But I still had this cough.

I’ve been a few weeks now without red pepper. I’m a lot happier now because I don’t cough as much anymore.

I still have my moments, though. First thing in the morning, I cough a little. I’m still working on a zero cough day. I’ve found that processed food with flour contributes to conditions that make me cough, too. So I avoid bread. I avoid butter. I avoid chocolate. I stick with whole food, unprocessed food, or just lightly processed food. I still eat brown rice, I just don’t use the pepper anymore. I still like to have a little Spike on the rice with some soy sauce. But I keep my meals simple, my portions small.

There is one other thing that I’ve found that helps me. I avoid eating anything after 6. Overall, I’m eating less, but I’m also regulating the time spent eating so that I’m not going to sleep on a full stomach. I’ve found that eating after six was making me feel sleepy and tired. So I stopped eating late, and I found that I have more endurance for my kids during their bedtime. Without the cough.

This has been one long journey. I finally have some peace now. I don’t feel so terminal about my cough because I know that it’s only temporary. I can regulate the cough by regulating my diet and the time that I choose to eat. I prefer to be a little bit hungry much of the time now. I think of Steve Jobs and how he said to “stay hungry”. My mind is lighter when my stomach is lighter. I feel better when I’m a little hungry. I feel much better without the red pepper.

Write on.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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