Gin-soaked raisins draw a batch of interest as arthritis cure

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY

August 16, 1994|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

People love home remedies for everything from bee stings to colds or tummy aches. But nothing has captured our readers' imaginations like the raisin remedy for arthritis.

Several months ago, we received a note attached to a clipping that described soaking golden raisins in gin, letting the gin evaporate, and then eating nine a day to combat arthritis pain and stiffness. The reader who sent it said his wife had been given the recipe by a neighbor.

Well, we'd never heard of this remedy before and we thought it sounded a little strange. We were especially intrigued by the implication in the clipping that the juniper extract that flavors gin might be responsible for the purported effect.

As we noted then, "Gin is flavored with juniper berries, but the concentration is not very high. Juniper has been used historically for treating stomach problems, as an inhalant for bronchitis, and even for arthritis." We couldn't find any medical literature on gin-soaked raisins.

Perhaps the most frequently asked question is, "Do these raisins ever dry out?" We've heard from people who have waited days or even weeks for the raisins to dry.

The original information we got specified only that the gin had to evaporate. We have heard from a few folks who have gone ahead and eaten their soggy raisins. One coupleremarked, "It's much more fun to eat the raisins while they are wet."

We heard from some other readers who found the raisin remedy worthwhile. According to Peggy, "I have had arthritis for the last 30 years. Medications like Feldene and Voltaren gave me only a little relief, but they did give me an ulcer! When I saw your article I was quite desperate, so I tried the recipe immediately. I didn't expect such quick results. I felt better the first evening and ever since. Why only nine raisins and is it dangerous to take more?"

The problem with home remedies is that they are rarely well-tested. Consequently we don't know if moist raisins are dangerous or if you can overdose if you take more than nine daily. We don't even know if the reported benefits are due to psychological expectation or some unknown chemical component. All we know is that lots of folks are intrigued.

Q: In a recent column you warned against regular use of stimulant laxatives. Is prune juice considered a stimulant laxative? What about bran cereal? Those are the ones I rely on for regularity.

A: According to the Harvard Health Letter, prunes are more controversial than most people realize. In 1951, scientists isolated a substance in prunes that they claimed was the active ingredient. It was similar to oxyphenisatin, an over-the-counter laxative that was popular at that time. Because this laxative was linked to liver damage it was taken off the market.

Whether prunes actually contain such a compound remains a mystery. If they did, then they might resemble a stimulant laxative. The experts for the Harvard Health Letter concluded, "It is unlikely that moderate consumption would cause any problems, but prune use, like everything else, should be prudent."

So far as bran cereals are concerned, don't worry.

They supply fiber, which is considered an excellent way to maintain regularity.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.

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