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Wasabi for Aiding Sinus Congestion

author image Sirah Dubois
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.
Wasabi for Aiding Sinus Congestion
A small glass bowl of wasabi paste sits on a white counter. Photo Credit: vitalssss/iStock/Getty Images

Wasabi, commonly called Japanese horseradish, is a spicy green condiment usually served with sushi. Like other radish-based foods, wasabi has an effect on your nasal passageways and sinuses, even in relatively small amounts. Wasabi consumption can lead to watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing, but research seems to indicate that it doesn’t actually aid in reducing sinus congestion, despite many anecdotal claims to the contrary. Consult with your doctor if you experience chronic nasal congestion or frequent infections.

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Wasabi, or Wasabia japonica, is a member of the Cruciferae family of plants, which also includes cabbage and mustard. The rhizome, or underground stem, of the plant is ground into a green paste and used to enhance the flavor of sushi and other Japanese dishes. According to the book “Nutritional Sciences for Human Health,” the compound that causes a temporary burning sensation in your nose is allylisothiocyanate. There is a common notion that this compound produces a decongestant effect, but research shows the opposite.

Sinus Congestion

Sinus or nasal congestion is the blockage of the nasal passageways due to inflamed mucus membranes and small blood vessels that line your sinuses and nose. According to the book “Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine,” sinus congestion can be the result of allergies, trauma or infection. Common symptoms of sinus congestion include nasal discharge, difficulty breathing through your nose, headache, facial pain, snoring and sleep apnea. Eating spicy foods is commonly done in efforts to reduce sinus congestion, but you may make your condition worse by doing so.

Wasabi and Sinus Congestion

Research conducted by Dr. David S. Cameron and Dr. Raul M. Cruz of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center found that consuming wasabi actually increases nasal congestion, according to the book “Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach.” The researchers concluded that wasabi and other spicy foods increase mucus production in the nasal passageways, although they can make your nostrils flare, which allows more air into your nose and sinuses giving an initial impression of decongestion.

Other Benefits

While wasabi may not work as a decongestant, it does provide some other health benefits. According to the book “Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine,” research shows that wasabi is rich in vitamin C, manganese and dietary fiber, and may help inhibit infections, asthma, blood clots and the growth of cancer cells.

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