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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 the nose.

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 congestion.

"If you love wasabi, keep eating it," Cameron said. "But if you want to recommend it as a decongestant, think twice."

Reference Source 89
September 21, 2004



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