It was one of the craziest home remedies Joe Graedon ever heard of. In 1994, a man wanted to know if eating nine gin-soaked raisins a day would help arthritis.
Graedon, who co-writes the nationally syndicated People's Pharmacy column with his wife, Terry, did some research. Maybe what helped was the juniper, which flavors gin.
"Hard as we tried, we could find no research confirming that juniper is helpful for arthritis," he replied to the man.
The idea nevertheless took on a life of its own.
After the column was published, Graedon began receiving letters from all over the world, testifying that the remedy had eased the pain in their joints. One woman from North Carolina sent him a heart-shaped note on Valentine's Day. "Thank you," she wrote. Her arthritis was so painful at times, she couldn't get out of bed. After about two months of eating the raisins, she could walk normally again.
Over the years, a question lingered in Graedon's mind. Does it really work?
Not for everyone. About five years after the first column ran, another man wrote Graedon a letter and said the remedy was worthless.
"Even if it's in their heads, they are so happy and it's so affordable," Graedon said of the raisins' perceived effect. "But you think it can't be placebo because they tried Advil, Aleve and heavy prescriptions."
He's had others who swear that a combination of Certo and grape juice helps relieve the pain.
In Dallas, rheumatologist Dr. John Cush says some of his patients swear by the raisin remedy. He warns patients against it if they have a history of alcoholism or if he thinks the gin would disrupt medication they're taking, he says.
Cush and Graedon aren't certain how the remedy came about. Cush says the Rev. Billy Graham made it popular. Graedon says he doesn't know who invented it. All he knows is that he has seen no scientific research about it.
People also have mixed up recipes over the years and say they've had the same results, Graedon says. Some use sloe gin, others use vinegar to soak the raisins. Some use golden raisins; others swear by black raisins.
If you're worried about the alcohol content, Graedon had some raisins tested in a lab and says there was only one drop of alcohol in all nine.
Two years ago, Graedon had lunch with the woman from North Carolina. She was walking with no assistance. She's still eating the raisins.