sesame seeds

Q. You often suggest anti-inflammatory foods as alternatives to pharmacy pain relievers. Why not consider sesame? An ingredient in this seed, sesamin, blocks the inflammatory activity of insulin.

A. Thank you for the suggestion (and the further details below). Although we have been collecting home remedies for decades, we have not encountered any using sesame seeds. That said, we just discovered a clinical trial comparing ground sesame seed plus acetaminophen to acetaminophen (APAP, Tylenol) alone for knee arthritis (International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases, Oct., 2013).

The researchers divided 50 people with arthritic knee pain into two groups. One received 2,000 mg of APAP and 500 mg glucosamine daily while the other got the same amount of APAP plus 40 grams of sesame daily.

After two months, those who had taken the sesame seed had significantly less pain and better function than those taking the drug. (Some people may wonder how to measure out 40 grams of ground sesame seeds. This comes to approximately 4 tablespoons, if you don’t have a kitchen scale.) Other scientists have found that sesamin has a beneficial effect on cartilage (Glycoconjugate Journal, online, Dec. 12, 2013). 

Your reasoning might explain why elevated insulin levels, such as occur in pre-diabetes and type-2 diabetes, might have a pro-inflammatory effect. This could also explain why excess fat tissue seems to stir up whole-body inflammation.

We discuss many other foods and food products that fight inflammation naturally in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. It reviews many of our favorite foods as well as home remedies.

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  1. JC

    I was able to buy Sesamin in capsule form from Amazon, but don’t know how to figure the conversion from 4 tablespoons to a 998 mg capsule. The bottle shows a serving as one tablet 3x day with meals….any scientists out there that can convert? Thanks
    People’s Pharmacy response: It might be worthwhile to try the dose recommended on the bottle and see how it goes. Let us know.

  2. Jerry V

    Someone had told me that sesame seeds were good for relieving pain, without mentioning any connection to arthritis or knees. Nor were there any details provided about dosage. I’ve had upper arm pain over the past couple of months which is often associated with taking proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec and Protonix for heartburn type conditions.
    The pain started soon after I started taking a proton pump inhibitor. Also at the same time, I was moved from an ergonomically correct desk to one with ergonomic issues, which have caused similar problems for me in the past. So I’m not certain which, if either, has caused my upper arm pain.
    In my ignorance, I tried about 1/2 Tablespoon sesame seeds in the morning. I simply put them in my mouth and wash them down with water. No grinding at all. Well, it may be my imagination, or it may be real, but it does actually seem to work to alleviate the pain. And it usually takes affect in only about 30 minutes after I’ve eaten them. There does seem to be a very clear correlation between the days in which I eat the sesame seeds, and the days which go without upper arm pain.

  3. edna

    all quite interesting and helpful!

  4. sam p

    I tried this and it works.. I only take half the dose and chew it up into a creme and swallow it. I will continue to take this it’s wonderful. My knee used to ache all the time due to a old injury and now its like it never happend :) all I can say is wow.

  5. Taz

    Kit, as another option you might try searching for sesamin or for sesame seed oil, both of which I’ve seen in pill form.

  6. Kit

    I live in Central Florida and have been to local drugstores, health stores like Whole Foods & Chamberlains.. as well as checked Amazon online for sesame pills. None to be found! Can’t believe you can buy pills for ginger, juniper berries, etc… but NOT sesame.
    Does anybody know where semame in simple vitamin pill form can be bought?

  7. b.j

    Please give more info on how to take the 40 grams of sesame for arthritis of knees, all in one dose? with food?, divided doses?. Would appreciate that. Need help badly and medicines don’t agree with me. Thank you. Barbara
    People’s Pharmacy response: Unfortunately, those details were not provided in the research report. We would imagine that dividing it into two doses to be taken with food would be pretty reasonable. Mix two tablespoons of ground sesame into a beverage for lunch and dinner, for example. Do keep in mind that sesame seeds have calories, so that may mean skipping dessert or roll.

  8. Taz

    I just bought a jar of Krinos brand Tahini (ground sesame seeds). The nutrition label says a serving size is 2 tablespoons, which it says is 37 grams.

  9. Nancy M.

    I just read the research abstract. Cannot read the whole study without access. I read it to say that the research group took 40 grams of sesame daily ORALLY in addition to the standard drug treatment. Still an impressive finding but different than thinking it replaced the drugs.

  10. Nancy M.

    The questions and issues being posed in the comments are helpful. Hope to see more information on this.
    It is obviously a provocative finding that the people had dramatic improvements with sesame seeds instead of the two medications.
    I bought organic sesame seeds at our local farm store yesterday and was trying to calculate a daily amount… which I see listed here as 4 tablespoons. We wonder whether they should be eaten raw or other. Questions about oil and tahini are practical. Joe and Terry… please help us with a follow up.

  11. Cindy M. Black

    Sounds like most of the commenters missed the very important little point that if you aren’t already “insulin-resistant,” (e.g., diabetics?), then the sesame-seed benefit might be greatly compromised. Sooo, maybe this is a moot point for most of us?
    Then again, regarding the study of “50 people with arthritic knee pain” who in fact seemed to benefit from sesame seeds: I don’t see anything mentioned about whether or not they had “normal insulin” to begin with. Wouldn’t this be important, in view of the explanation of how the “sesame benefit” is supposed to work?

  12. Barb

    40 grams of sesame seeds is a huge amount daily and does it have to be ground, not whole? Are you sure this amount is really necessary? Also, I would be interested in whether tahini would work as well.

  13. Paraman B

    I would recommend being careful to avoid non-organic sesame seeds or tahini. Sesame seeds and many other foods (including cashews) grown in some places overseas (sadly, including India) can be grown with huge amounts of essentially unregulated pesticides,some of which have been outlawed in the U.S. for many years. Btw, tahini would have no more fat than sesame seeds as it is just made by grinding the seeds a la peanut butter, at least as far as I know.

  14. mb

    how about people with diverticulosis who are supposed to avoid eating seeds? would this sesame be harmful to them?

  15. SD

    Please post more on this! ie: tahini, oil, etc. Would this help knee and hip pain?

  16. Liz H

    Any idea if sesamin is found in other seeds?

  17. PJR

    I agree: four tablespoons is a lot of sesame seeds. Tahini would probably be a more concentrated form, but it’s very high in fat and calories, similar to peanut butter. I could probably manage one tablespoon per day. Sesame seeds in bulk are fairly inexpensive. Would black sesame seeds be as effective?

  18. Subramanian

    PG1 and PG2 refer to two different forms of a molecule called ProstaGlandins which are made in the body and they have several functions. One of them happens to be inflammation which causes arthritis and other kinds of pain.

  19. ladyliza

    Find an Armenian or middle eastern grocery store and you will find bulk sesame seeds. You are paying for the glass bottles dearly. Sprouts market and Whole Foods probably has it too. Don’t know about Trader Joe’s, but they would have the best price if they have it. Also check with Costco.

  20. edna

    interesting, following!

  21. Paraman B

    I would also love to know if tahini would work as well. How much tahini equals 40 grams? Thanks so much

  22. Jeff C

    There are also rigorous studies in the medical literature indicating that sesame oil lowers blood pressure when used as cooking oil or otherwise used in food. As I recall, it needs to be raw sesame oil, not the toasted sesame oil (although the toasted sesame oil is really tasty!).

  23. CB

    can sesame oil be used and what dosage instead of seeds?

  24. SRS

    You can find sesame seeds cheaper in Indian grocery stores.

  25. AM

    Yes, I agree that tahini would be a much simpler option! I wonder if freshness matters. If you need four tablespoons of sesame seeds you would certainly need less tahini. It would be very interesting to see if tahini has been tested for PG1 or used as an anti inflammatory.

  26. CDR

    Sesame seeds at health food stores are usually bagged in bulk & less expensive. That said, 4 tablespoons is an awful lot.

  27. Kate L.

    How about 40 grams of Tahini instead of the seeds?

  28. Kathleen Kowski

    Sesame seed is expensive for a very small bottle in the spice section of the grocery store. Is there another form available?

  29. Jeff C

    How about using tahini, a paste made of ground sesame seeds, instead of going through the hassle of grinding the seeds? Tahini is tasty—great to spread on a cracker, or with lemon and garlic makes a great dressing, excellent on grilled fish etc. Also—hummus is made with tahini and garbanzo beans.

  30. Torrence

    OK, what is 1 (PG1)and 2 (PG2)? Answers should be more straight forward for people like me how don’t understand the letter and numbers argument. Thank you.

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