Short, Stout, Has a Handle on Colds

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  • Sunnygal41

    Short, Stout, Has a Handle on Colds

    alt Angela Jimenez for The New York Times

    Jan Mathews tests the water temperature at East West Living in Manhattan.

    By CAMILLE SWEENEY Published: January 3, 2008

    GABY HAKMAN worked as a chef in professional kitchens in Miami for nearly 20 years, standing in the vacuum of powerful venting fans, inhaling smoke. But she had even bigger nasal challenges ahead. “I work as a personal chef now, which is a lot less toxic, but I also moved to New York City, and because of the city’s pollutants and dry heat I developed painfully dry sinuses,” Ms. Hakman said.

    Skip to next paragraph alt Angela Jimenez for The New York Times

    alt YouTube

    DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME Neti pots are now so mainstream, they are the stuff of jokes. An Ohio man called Drew, right, spoofs them on a popular YouTube video.

    Seeking the advice of a masseuse and acupuncturist, Jana Warchalowski, Ms. Hakman was urged to try something she didn’t even want to think about. “Jana said she had two words for me: neti pot,” Ms. Hakman said. “I’d heard about it before. I just kept thinking, ‘No way, that’s gross.’”

    But this fall, Ms. Hakman relented.

    “I went out and bought a pretty little ceramic neti pot from Whole Foods,” she said. “I’ve used it every day since. Now, I can breathe again. It’s even gotten rid of the bags under my eyes.”

    Originally part of a millennia-old Indian yogic tradition, the practice of nasal irrigation — jala neti — is performed with a small pot that looks like a cross between Aladdin’s lamp and your grandmother’s gravy boat. The neti pot made its way into this country in the early 1970s as a yoga meditation device, but even as yoga became mainstream, the neti pot remained on the fringes of alternative culture.

    That is, until now. Due to a confluence of influences, the neti pot is having what can only be termed a moment, sold in drugstores, health food stores, even at Wal-Mart and Walgreens.

    The practice gained wide exposure last spring when it was introduced on Oprah Winfrey’s show by a frequent guest, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon and an author of health books. Dr. Oz explained that bathing the sinus cavities in a warm saline solution can reduce symptoms of allergies, cold, flu and other nasal problems.

    He called upon a chronic sinusitis sufferer, identified as Amy from Texas, to demonstrate the neti pot. “Welcome to your nose bidet,” Ms. Winfrey said enthusiastically as the woman inserted the spout of a ceramic pot into one nostril, tilted her head and let a solution of non-iodized salt and water flow up her nose and out the other nostril.

    A month later, in a follow-up, Amy spoke by phone on air and reported she’d used a neti pot every day since, with happy results. She had not had a single sinus headache, she said.

    A star was born.

    The neti pot became a hot topic online, featured in blogs and daily journals, chatted about on message boards, demonstrated in some 60 YouTube videos. It was billed as a cure-all to ward off cold or flu, improve a sense of smell or taste, sharpen vision and even reduce snoring. “Nose bidet” became one of the most popular topics searched on Google.

    Neither Whole Foods Market, where neti pots have been sold nationwide for almost a decade, nor the Himalayan Institute, one of the largest retail and wholesale distributors of neti pots in the United States, would disclose sales figures, but representatives of each company said that after the Oprah shows there were sharp spikes in demand.

    Jan Mathews, the chief executive of East West Living, a seller of spiritual books and supplies with a store in Manhattan, said: “After Oprah, we went from selling dozens of neti pots a week to dozens a day, and sold out. For two weeks we couldn’t restock fast enough. It may have started with Oprah, but then it became word of mouth.”

    In December, Ms. Mathews began in-store neti pot demonstrations in the store’s cafe four times a week. “There’s a growing clamor for natural alternatives to cold and allergy medicines,” she said. “In my demo, there may be about a dozen or so people in attendance, but sometimes I’ll look up and realize the whole rest of the cafe is watching.”

    PROMOTERS of the neti pot link it to other methods of purifying and detoxifying the body that have become popular at spas and from providers of alternative health care, procedures like seaweed facials, liver flushes and coffee enemas.

    Few if any Western medical schools teach the use of the neti pot. But Dr. Bradley Marple, the chairman of the rhinology and paranasal sinus committee for the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery, said that nasal irrigation is a well-known remedy for various respiratory complaints.

    “There are an estimated billion viral episodes of the upper respiratory tract a year,” said Dr. Marple, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.

    “Studies indicate that saline nasal irrigation is a highly effective, minimally invasive intervention for people suffering from nasal issues,” Dr. Marple said. “But it’s just not as sexy to talk about. People want to hear about surgery or antibiotics.”

    He added that there are many commercially available products that deliver a saline solution to the nasal area, including squeeze bottles and spray cans. They may be more convenient than using a neti pot, he said, but because of its gentler pressure, a neti pot can be an advantage for patients who suffer ear discomfort due to pressure.

    Amy Neunsinger of Los Angeles, a commercial and fashion photographer, says she’s made using it fun for her toddler son.

    “Last year when he had a sinus infection, instead of putting him on antibiotics as the doctor recommended, I had him try the neti pot,” Ms. Neunsinger said. “He was 3. I told him, ‘Hold your breath, just like in swimming lessons,’ and he tried it and it worked. He felt so much better, and his infection went away quickly on its own.”

    “Now, we do it together once a week,” she said. “He loves to tear open the little packets of salt and mix it up.”

    One user’s neti pot video has had nearly a quarter-million views on YouTube. In the video, “How to Irrigate Your Nasal Passages,” a cartoonist from Ohio who goes by the name Drew, demonstrates (to a song titled “I Like to Watch the Rain Come Down”) how to use a neti pot with salty water, then with black coffee, then with Kentucky bourbon, exploding with an expletive a millisecond before the video snaps off.

    In an e-mail message, Drew, 28, wrote: “I haven’t had any sinus problems in a few months. Maybe the whiskey did the trick?

    “The last time it was used, I filled it with half and half to serve with coffee — bad idea. The cream went everywhere when you tried to pour it, and our guests immediately recognized the neti pot as ‘that thing I saw you put in your nose.’”

  • tall penguin
    tall penguin

    Interesting. Never heard of them before.

    tall penguin

  • chickpea

    we have been using the neti pot for over 15 years... all my kids grew up using it..... the youngest has asthma and it was a godsend to help alleviate and/or prevent more serious allergy indused attacks.... just this winter the 16 YO had a ''snot nose" and he was rummaging around in the bathroom, hollering to me>>> MOM!! where is the neti pot?"

    believe me, it doesnt have to be bourbon to send one into orbit..... once there was just a taaaaaaad too much salt in the water.... O M G!!! it was like having the sinus cavity sandblasted with acid!!! the tears and snot flowed for half a day!!!!! i strongly suggest that it is better to have a weaker saline concentration than one that is reminiscent of the ocean's salinity.... STRONGLY suggest!!!

  • Hortensia

    I can't get into the neti pot thing, but I get a similar result by just spraying saline solution into each nostril. If you inhale strongly while spraying into the nostril, you can feel it go up into the sinus and then run down the back of your throat. Makes a big difference in my allergies and sinus infections.

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