What Can Your Body Endure?

This kind of trivia always catches my eye:

What is the hottest curry you can bear to eat?

The active ingredient in curry or chilli is capsaicin. The more capsaicin present, the hotter the curry. Ordinary Tabasco sauce is about 260 parts per million capsaicin. A habanero chilli contains about 17,000ppm.

Theoretically, the hottest curry you could make would be a bowl of pure capsaicin crystals. This dish would be 10,000 times hotter than a vindaloo.

Although capsaicin does not actually cause a chemical burn or any direct tissue damage itself, the impact on the nervous system of such powerful stimulation is similar to an allergic reaction. As well as incredible pain, you could expect uncontrollably streaming eyes and nose, upper body spasms, and severe difficulty breathing for 30 to 45 minutes.

In fact, our ultimate curry would be five times stronger than the pepper spray used by police for riot control.

Provided you are healthy with no history of heart conditions or asthma, it might be possible to survive a teaspoon of pure capsaicin, but impossible to eat anything else for a few hours.

Theoretical limit: 5g capsaicin
Current record: 0.1g

In 2005, Blair Lazar refined 500g of capsaicin from chilli peppers to create a sauce. He tried a single crystal. “It was like having your tongue hit with a hammer,” he said.


How fast can your legs carry you?

The question of how fast it is possible for a human to run is more complicated than it sounds. Even deciding who is today’s fastest human is tricky.

The current world record for the 100m sprint is held by Asafa Powell of Jamaica, who clocked a time of 9.74 seconds in 2007. This gives an average speed of 36.96km/h, but since the runners must begin from a standstill, this includes the time taken to accelerate.

Sprinters in a 200m race will complete their second 100m in a shorter time than the first because they are already running at full speed as they cross the 100m mark.

Since the advent of electronic timing in 1968, the men’s world record for the 100m has been beaten 11 times (but never by more than 0.05 seconds). Improvements in track and running shoe technology or the effects of wind and altitude are the most likely causes of this.

Most of the forward force in a running stride is supplied by the quadricep muscles. These are attached to the knee by the quadriceps tendon. Work done by Dr Gideon B. Ariel in the 1970s suggested that any time faster than 9.60 seconds would require forces high enough to rupture this tendon from its attachment point. Taking this as the fastest possible time for the 100m would give an average speed 37.5km/h.

Top sprinters peak around the 80m mark. Taking this as a guide, it’s possible to estimate a runner’s maximum speed as 11.96m/s or 43.06km/h.

Theoretical limit: 43.06km/h
Current record: 42.52km/h

In 2007, Asafa Powell ran with a 1.7m/sec tailwind. Despite this, he only improved on the record by 0.05 seconds.

How many bee stings can you survive?

2243: the greatest number of bee stings ever survived.

600: the theoretical dose needed to give a 50 per cent chance of death.

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