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Originally published Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:17 AM

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Sesame seeds for knee pain?

People’s Pharmacy on sesame seeds for arthritis pain, candied ginger for coughs, and the link between fish oil and cognitive function.


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Q: You often suggest anti-inflammatory foods as alternatives to pharmacy pain relievers. Why not consider sesame? An ingredient in this seed, sesamin, blocks the inflammatory activity of insulin.

A: Thank you for the suggestion. Although we have been collecting home remedies for decades, we have not encountered any using sesame seeds. That said, we just discovered a clinical trial comparing ground sesame seed to acetaminophen (Tylenol) for knee arthritis (International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases, October 2013).

The researchers divided 50 people with arthritic knee pain into two groups. One received 2,000 mg of acetaminophen and 500 mg of glucosamine daily, while the other got 40 grams of sesame daily. After two months, those who had taken the sesame seed had significantly less pain and better function than those taking the drug. Other scientists have found that sesamin has a beneficial effect on cartilage (Glycoconjugate Journal online, December 2013).

Q: Some time ago, I had a horrible coughing fit at my bank. The teller handed me a couple of pieces of candied ginger from her purse. It worked immediately, and now I keep some handy for anyone needing it to quell a cough.

A: What a tasty cough remedy! Research dating back to 1984 shows that a compound in ginger, (6)-shogaol, is at least as effective as a codeine compound in fighting a cough (Journal of Pharmacobio-Dynamics, November 1984). More recently, scientists have confirmed that this compound also can fight fever, pain and inflammation (Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology, August 2013).

Q: About 10 years ago, I cleaned up my diet big-time. I was eating so many fresh fruits and vegetables, I figured I no longer needed the multivitamin and fish oil I had been taking. After about a year, I was feeling great physically, but could not concentrate as well as I used to. I read the term “brain fog” and thought that was definitely what I had.

I started taking fish oil again, just a 1,000 mg capsule daily. Within about a month or so, my mind felt noticeably more clear and agile. I’ll never stop taking fish oil as long as I can get it.

A: The benefits of fish oil are controversial when it comes to cognitive function. A review of the literature points out that animal studies are consistently positive and that fish-oil supplements seem to help with mild cognitive impairment — what you are calling brain fog — but not Alzheimer’s disease (Advances in Nutrition, November 2013).

A large, long-term study of women found that those with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cells had less brain shrinkage (atrophy) on MRI testing (Neurology online, Jan. 22, 2014). Most nutrition experts recommend eating fatty fish at least twice a week to get adequate levels of fish oil.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th floor, New York, NY 10019, or via their website:www.peoplespharmacy.org



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