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The Benefits of Sesame Seeds for Knee Osteoarthritis

Doctors have been injecting arthritis patients with gold since the 1920s. In fact, “[g]old-based medicines have been in use for thousands of years…and remarkably…are still in clinical use as DMARDs,” or disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, meaning they can slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, such drugs can be toxic and even fatal, causing conditions such as gold lung, a gold-induced lung disease. “Although its use can be limited by the incidence of serious toxicity,” injectable gold has been shown to be beneficial to patients with rheumatoid arthritis. But maybe, as some researchers have suspected, some of that benefit comes from the sesame oil that’s injected, which is used as the liquid carrier for the gold.

As I discuss in my video Sesame Seeds for Knee Osteoarthritis, sesame seeds contain anti-inflammatory compounds with names such as sesamin and sesamol, which researchers suggest “may serve as a potential treatment for various inflammatory diseases.” Those observations, however, came from in vitro (test tube) studies. First, we have to see if sesame seeds have an anti-inflammatory effect in people, not just in cells in a petri dish, but there haven’t been any studies on the effects of sesame seeds on inflammatory markers in people with arthritis, for example…until now.

The abstract states: “Considering the high prevalence of osteoarthritis (OA) and since until now there had not been any human studies to evaluate the effect of sesame in OA patients, this study was designed to assess the effect of administration of sesame on inflammation…” Indeed, researchers found a significant drop in inflammatory markers, but what effect did sesame seeds have on the patients’ actual disease?

Fifty patients with osteoarthritis of the knee were split into two groups. Both received standard treatment, but the sesame group also received about a quarter cup of sesame seeds a day for two months. Before they started, the patients described their pain as about nine out of ten, where zero is no pain and ten is the maximum tolerable pain. After two months, the control group felt a little better and reported their pain was down to seven, but the sesame group dropped down to three and a half, significantly lower than the control group. The researchers concluded that sesame appeared to have a “positive effect…improving clinical signs and symptoms in patients with knee OA…”

The main problem with the study, though, is that the control group hadn’t been given a placebo. It’s hard to come up with a fake sesame seed, but without a placebo, researchers basically compared doing nothing to doing something, and any time you have patients do something, you can’t discount the placebo effect. That said, what are the downsides? That’s the nice thing about using food as medicine—only good side effects. Though the results are mixed, there have been studies using placebo controls that found that adding sesame seeds to our diet may improve our cholesterol and antioxidant status, and the amount of sesamin found in as little as about one tablespoon of sesame seeds can modestly lower blood pressure a few points within a month, enough, perhaps, to lower fatal stroke and heart attack risk by about 5 percent, potentially saving thousands of lives.

What other dietary interventions can help with arthritis? Check out:

If the placebo effect is really that powerful, should doctors prescribe them? They already do! Check out The Lie That Heals: Should Doctors Give Placebos? for more on this.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

22 responses to “The Benefits of Sesame Seeds for Knee Osteoarthritis

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  1. EAT YOUR HUMMUS! Pulses and seeds. I make mine with a bit more tahini, also toast and grind sesame seeds into the mix.. Delish… Put it on an apple???
    Just made some skin on applesause in the pressure cooker… 4 min.. too simple..

  2. Thank you Doctor.

    I have severe OA (complete denudation of cartilage), but virtually NO PAIN as long as I do my leg exercises. I have been using Tahini on 2 – 4 sandwiches / day for at least a year because it is high in copper which I seem to need for several reasons. But now I know the Tahini has been helping me for other reasons.

    1. Sydney,

      That is such good news!

      I really like hummus and tahini, but I still go back and forth in the logic because of its health benefits versus health risks from the fact that I haven’t lost much weight and fats are the thing I have to watch.

      I am using a device called a MicroPulse ICES and one of the studies he is trying to do is see how many people can regrow their cartilage with it. In one of the other PEMF studies, I think it was 34% of people were able to regrow their cartilage, but the study took 2 years.

      I am not sure how they administered it because there have been studies where PEMF was not nearly as effective if used for less than 3 hours versus 3 hours or more. Less than 3 hours was closer to 30% effective and over 3 hours was over 80% effective for the thing they were using it for. Consistency and length of time was the difference between success and failure.

      Curatron has some images on-line of people who were successful (but their device is too expensive for me to afford and the MicroPulse ICES has versions you can wear all-day.

      The images are cool though.

  3. This is off-topic but may be of interest.

    A number of people have stated here that we need to add fats to meals to ensure or at least maximise nutruent absoption from that meal

    Recent research suggests that this may not be necessary – at least as far as vitamin E is concerned

    ‘A fresh look at how to best determine dietary guidelines for vitamin E has produced a surprising new finding: Though the vitamin is fat soluble, you don’t have to consume fat along with it for the body to absorb it.

    “I think that’s remarkable,” said the study’s corresponding author, Maret Traber of Oregon State University, a leading authority on vitamin E who’s been researching the micronutrient for three decades. “We used to think you had to eat vitamin E and fat simultaneously. What our study shows is that you can wait 12 hours without eating anything, then eat a fat-containing meal and vitamin E gets absorbed.”

    1. Tom,

      That is fascinating!

      “What this study says is, vitamin E gets taken up into the intestinal cell and sits there and waits for the next meal to come along,”

      I wonder if other things work that way.

    1. Dr. Greger says not to subject nuts and seeds to heat. He says he also prefers the taste of cooked nuts but now only eats raw nuts (and I assume raw seeds).

  4. My concern sesame, chia, hemp, flaxseed is based on last study from Clean Label Project and the information available on line found that virtually all of the organic protein powder contained heavy metal and similar is for seeds.

    1. Phillip,

      Did they test seeds? I looked but didn’t see seeds.

      I have been looking at that because all foods naturally contain some amount of heavy metals from the earth, so it is more a matter of how much than trying to find foods, which don’t contain any at all.

      When I looked up heavy metals and flaxseed on other sites, it said that the heavy metals in the soils most was in the root, decreasing as you get to the seeds, but I didn’t understand how much it ends up being.

  5. Philip Weil: Good point. I have a general distrust of ground things, because on so many occasions, none of the material is actually what they say it is, or it has toxic ingredients. I buy whole turmeric, for example, and slice it myself, because then I know it is actually turmeric I’m buying.

    1. I am not so sure about sesame seeds being good in all its effects. It has very high methionine content, higher than many animal products, and according to Dr. Greger’s video on methionine, this promotes the growth of cancer.

      1. Hendrick,

        I looked that up, too, and would agree that if you are trying to do Methionine restriction that sesame seeds aren’t the best choice.

        However, there are different mechanisms for fighting cancer and sesame seeds are high in lignans and they are being studied as an anti-cancer food.

        There are several studies, but, yes, if you are doing Methionine-restriction as your mechanism, don’t eat them.

  6. Any oil that increases or supports synovial fluid production helps. I find that GLA, an omega 6 oil helps a lot, as does real good quality omega 3. The one I take has olive lignans, flax, and anthaxian as well as dha and epa.

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