Greenshell Mussels & Arthritis

Greenshell Mussels & Arthritis

I picked up the ” New Zealand Listener” a while back and started to read it over lunch. One of the letters to the editor brought back memories of a very stressful moment, during an interview with Kim Hill on national radio.  Here’s the letter, from a woman in the Bay of Plenty:

“More than 15 years ago, when in my 40s, I was diagnosed with arthritis in hands, neck and head. It was very painful, which made it difficult to sleep and to do things during the day.

Then I heard Kim Hill interview the head of the Cawthron Institute about a new strain of toxic algal bloom affecting shellfish. He mentioned, in passing, how eating mussels had cured his arthritis. I decided to try them and have been eating them ever since.

At $6, a 500 g tub lasts me about three months so it is a cheap cure. I have a 1979 book, Relief from Arthritis by John E Croft, that talks about the New Zealand green mussel  and its curative properties, so this idea is not new.

Recently a knee scan and x-ray for an injury really revealed no arthritis, which surprised the surgeon, but not me.”

You can imagine how pleased I was to read that.  I vividly remember that interview.  In the mid-90s Cawthron Institute had begun a surveillance program for toxic algae which involved analysing samples of seawater sent in from all around New Zealand.  We had just identified a new “nasty” in a sample collected from the entrance to Tauranga Harbour (close to where the container ship Rena later ran aground).  That species was known to produce PSP, paralytic shellfish poisoning, and in an incident in Chile a year or so earlier had been responsible for 15 deaths.

Our mussel industry contact urged us to issue a media release, anxious to prevent any similar incidents in this country. The story was picked up by the media and the next day I was asked by Radio New Zealand if I was willing to be interviewed by Kim Hill on their morning programme. (For readers outside New Zealand, Kim Hill is the David Frost of NZ radio, a superb interviewer with a very sharp mind, great interest in science and low tolerance for fools or wafflers).  I made the mistake of telling the Cawthron staff, many of whom listened to the live interview with interest, waiting to see if their CEO got shredded.

Well I nearly did. I was trying to provide plenty of reassurance along with the health warnings. We had a good monitoring system so consumers could be confident that the shellfish in the shops was safe. I obviously overdid it.  ” So why did you put this media release then, if it’s no big deal?” Kim asked. That was a very good question. “Good question” I responded. “Yes, it is” from Kim.  “Would you like to answer it? ”  My brain was trying to go into overdrive. “Well, for one thing, the fact that we’ve identified this species which has never before been found in New Zealand is scientifically very interesting” was my feeble response.  “Good grief! That’s like scientists in white coats running round shouting we’ve discovered the bubonic plague” she said in an irritated voice. I had to agree. “Who in their right mind would ever eat shellfish?” was her next, rhetorical question.

Oh dear!  That was not at all the purpose of the media release. I could just imagine the mussel industry leaders turning red in the face at that comment. Suddenly I had an inspiration. “Well I do, I eat greenshell mussels for my arthritis” I said in an attempt to push the pendulum back a little. “Really? Do they work?” asked Kim, sounding a lot more interested. Then followed five minutes on my arthritis. A narrow escape.

I was interested to see the letter writer refer to the book by John Croft. John made a huge contribution to New Zealand as one of the people responsible for the growth of the mussel industry here.  Another was a Japanese researcher, Prof Kosuge (whose name is on the original US patents for the anti-inflammatory activity of Greenshell mussels). I’ve written about him at length in another post on this blog. It was Kosuge-sensei that recommended Greenshell mussels to me, for my psoriatic arthritis. He suggested 4 or 5 whole mussels, three or four times a week.  For me at the time that was easy – Cawthron Institute had a good supply of mussels, plus lots of contacts with growers and producers.  Kosuge-sensei explained that it is a slow process and I should not expect results until I’d been taking them for three months or more.  It was good advice and I managed to avoid taking anti-inflammatory drugs for seven years or so.

Eventually the progression of the disease rendered the mussels ineffective and I ended up on heavy duty painkillers, until I qualified for one of the new ‘TNF blockers’ which completely changed my life.  But that’s another story.

In my limited experience, the beneficial effect of Greenshell mussels can be patchy.   For some it appears to work very well while for others they may have little effect. I’m pleased that the woman who wrote the letter had such good results.



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