Thursday, August 19, 2004
For Backaches and Colds, Try Tabasco Sauce
By ROGER M. GRACE
Means of alleviating arthritis pain with substances from the pantry rather than the medicine chest were suggested last year in the Washington Post. “Smear Quaker Oats, French’s Mustard or Tabasco Pepper Sauce on the area,” columnist Stefanie Weiss suggested.
She explained that the warmth of oatmeal is soothing and mustard “provides natural warmth to the joints,” adding:
“Hot sauce contains the alkaloid capsaicin, the active ingredient in remedies like Sloan’s Liniment and Watkins (Red) Liniment. Is it messy? Sure. But it’s inexpensive, in your kitchen right now, and it sure beats arthritis pain.”
Joey Green, in his 2002 book “Amazing Kitchen Cures,” likewise recommended use of Tabasco Sauce for pain, advising: “To numb the pain of sore muscles, rub the capsaicin-laced sauce onto the skin.”
While the McIlhenny Company, which produces Tabasco Sauce, makes no claim that its food-enhancer is a pain liniment, it stands to reason that the substance would serve that function. Tabasco Sauce is made from peppers. As discussed here last week, peppers are fruits of capsicum plants. The alkaloid that makes hot peppers hot is capsaicin, and capsaicin is known to kill pain.
In fairly recent years, pain killing creams have prominently featured the word “capsicum,” and it has no doubt been widely supposed that this is some new curative. Indeed, that was the assumption of a friend who, with enthusiasm, told me about such preparations recently, contrasting them favorably to a potion her mother had prepared for me 20 years earlier.
(The friend had dropped by our office one day in the early 1980s and saw I was walking hunchbacked, like a caveman. I explained I was experiencing back trouble. The next day, she sent over a liniment prepared by her mother from a recipe bestowed by a Georgia pharmacist in the 1930s containing bourbon, tincture of turpentine, and lanoline-and it worked quite well.)
The fact is that capsicum-specifically, its property capsaicin—has long been an unglorified ingredient, listed in small type, in pain ointments.
Capsaicin, far from being a new pain killer, is an ancient remedy. Paul W. Bosland, a professor of horticulture at New Mexico State, said in an article in 1996:
“Medicinal use of Capsicums has a long history, dating back to the Mayas who used them to treat asthma, coughs, and sore throats. The Aztecs used chile pungency to relieve toothaches.”
“Capsaicin is said to do many miraculous things medicinally,” the University of New Mexico website declares. “One of the most miraculous is probably its ability to prevent or even stop a heart attack. It increases heart action without raising blood pressure. It also thins your blood and reduces the risks of suffering a stroke.”
The University of Leeds (England) website says of Tabasco peppers:
“The dried fruit is a powerful local stimulant with no narcotic effect, it is most useful in atony [tone] of the intestines and stomach. It has proved efficacious in dilating blood vessels and thus relieving chronic congestion of people addicted to drink. It is sometimes used as a tonic and is said to be unequalled in warding off disease (probably due to the high vitamin C content). Some caution should be employed, however, since large doses are extremely irritating to the gastro-intestinal system.
“Used externally, the fruit is a strong rubefacient stimulating the circulation, aiding the removal of waste products and increasing the flow of nutrients to the tissues. It is applied as a cataplasm or liniment. It has also been powdered and placed inside socks as a traditional remedy for those prone to cold feet....
“The fruit is also antihaemorrhoidal, antirheumatic, antiseptic, carminative, diaphoretic, digestive, sialagogue and stomachic.”
Is Tabasco Sauce useful to cold sufferers?
Some say yes. Among them is Dr. Irwin Ziment, professor emeritus of Clinical Medicine at UCLA and former chief of medicine at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. For adults suffering from colds, he prescribes 10 to 20 drops of Tabasco Sauce in water three to four times a day.
Arthur C. Gibson, a UCLA professor of biology, queries in an essay on a UCLA website: “Did you know that a few drops of Tabasco Sauce in soda water can temporarily dry up a cold?”
Dominion Herbal College in British Columbia, Canada (established in 1926) advises on its website:
“In colds, relaxed throat, cold conditions of the stomach, dyspepsia, spasms, palpitation, particularly in the acute stages, give a warm infusion of Capsicum in small repeat doses, about two teaspoons every half hour or more frequently if required.”
Next week: a look at litigation over rights to the word “Tabasco.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company
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