Fish Tale? Wasabi, that nostril-searing green condiment served with Japanese food, has a reputation as an effective sinus-clearer. Sushi-loving otolaryngologist David Cameron figured wasabi might pose an herbal alternative for people with heart disease or hypertension for whom standard decongestants are a bad idea.

The Wasabi Challenge During his medical residency at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, Calif., Cameron (now in private practice in Westerly, R.I.) asked 22 people to assess their own ability to breathe through their noses before and after eating wasabi. Using a device called an acoustic rhinometer, he measured the shape of participants' nasal airways before and after the wasabi challenge.

The Raw Data Fourteen participants reported breathing easier after sampling wasabi.(Four felt more congested; four reported no change.) But Cameron's measurements contradicted those reports: 15 participants' nasal passages actually grew narrower post-wasabi, while seven "opened up a little bit."

Clearing the Air More study is needed to explore why many people feel their nasal passages are clearer after a shot of wasabi, Cameron says. For now, "if you like wasabi, keep eating it," Cameron says. "But if we were going to recommend it as an actual decongestant, we would have to exercise a bit more caution. The results of this study put wasabi in the 'delicious curiosity' category rather than an herbal remedy." His paper was presented at an American Academy of Otolaryngology meeting last week.

-- Jennifer Huget