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Wasabi != Decongestant?

Listening to the wonderful CBC show As It Happens on my way home tonight, I heard a common belief shot down. From the Reuters story on the same topic:

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 told Reuters Health. "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.

I suppose one learns something new every day. Or something like that.

I have a dear old friend who absolutely loves wasabi, more than anyone else I've ever known. Over a sushi dinner a few months ago, she talked about how she'll sometimes eat a large chunk of wasabi paste just to feel her neck and scalp tingle. "Why not?" I thought to myself, and so we each had a chunk at the same time. She was right. It wasn't so much a burning sensation in my mouth as much as the feeling that my nervous system was being overloaded in a local region. My neck definitely tingled.

I told this story to another Japanese food-loving friend of mine some time later.

Him: That was stupid.

Me: Why do you say that?

Him: You could have overstimulated yourself into a seizure.

Me: I hadn't thought of that.

So could enough of something like wasabi really send someone into a seizure? It seems unlikely, but...


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