Think Wasabi Clears
Your Sinuses? Think Again
Many people believe the sushi-seasoner
wasabi clears their sinuses, but new research presented this week
suggests that the spicy green paste may do the opposite.
U.S. researchers found that eating
wasabi appeared to increase congestion in a small group of healthy
volunteers, despite the fact that participants said they thought
that the spice had cleared their nasal passages.
"Actually, wasabi is a congestant,"
study author Dr. David S. Cameron stated. "It makes the space
of your nasal passages smaller, but it makes you feel more open."
Cameron explained that wasabi probably
clogs up sinuses by increasing blood flow to the lining of the
nose. That extra blood takes up space, he said, which constricts
the nasal passageway.
Wasabi may make the nose feel more
open, Cameron noted, by causing changes that increase the cooling
effect of air breathed through the nose, or by stimulating flaring
of the nostrils, which enables air to flow more easily though
Cameron and his team will present
their findings Tuesday during the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head
and Neck Surgery Foundation annual meeting in New York City.
Wasabi is made by grinding the
stems of the Wasabia japonica plant into a paste. This plant belongs
to the same family of plants as broccoli, cabbage and mustard.
While wasabi may not work as a
decongestant, previous research has suggested that it is not without
other health benefits. For instance, lab research shows that wasabi
may inhibit the growth of cancer cells in test tubes, prevent
platelets from forming blood clots, and may even fight asthma
or cavities. And, appropriately for a condiment used to season
raw fish, wasabi has antimicrobial properties.
During the current study, Cameron
and his colleagues from Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland,
California asked 22 people to dissolve a lentil-sized amount of
wasabi on their tongues multiple times at one-minute intervals,
and then report whether the spice affected their sinuses. The
researchers also used a device to objectively measure participants'
nasal congestion before and after tasting wasabi.
Cameron explained that he and his
colleagues used the minimum amount of wasabi needed to cause burning
in the nose, a hallmark of the ingredient.
Although people believed that wasabi
helped open their nasal passages, it actually appeared to increase
"If you love wasabi, keep eating
it," Cameron said. "But if you want to recommend it as a decongestant,
Reference Source 89
September 21, 2004