Natto, a traditional Japanese fermented food, is not only known for its distinct flavor but also for its incredible health benefits. In this article, we will delve into the properties of nattokinase, a natural enzyme found in natto, and explore its outstanding effects on circulation, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and overall well-being.
Nattokinase: An Enzyme Exclusive to Bacillus Natto
Nattokinase is a proteolytic enzyme (protease) that is produced solely by Bacillus natto during the fermentation process of soybeans into natto. Recent studies have also suggested the potential for Bacillus natto to produce nattokinase within the gastrointestinal tract. This enzyme has attracted significant attention due to its remarkable health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and alleviation of inflammatory conditions. Nattokinase primarily functions by promoting fibrinolysis, the dissolution of blood clots, leading to improved cardiovascular health and enhanced blood circulation.
The Historical Background and Scientific Discoveries of Nattokinase: The presence of a powerful protease in natto was first reported by Dr. Sawamura in 1907. Subsequently, in 1925, Dr. Oshima of Hokkaido University discovered that this protease had the ability to degrade fibrin. Detailed studies on its properties and structure were conducted by Dr. Miyake et al. of Hyogo University of Agriculture and Science (now Kobe University) in the 1950s. In the 1990s, Dr. Ichijima and others at Tohoku University conducted a genetic analysis of nattokinase.
Initially known as natto protease or Bacillus natto serine protease (BSP), it was eventually named “nattokinase” by Dr. Sumi in the 1980s. Presently, the enzyme is scientifically referred to as subtilisin NAT.
Health Properties of Nattokinase
Nattokinase possesses several notable health properties that contribute to its increasing popularity as a dietary supplement.
● Effective in Dissolving Clots and Preventing Thrombosis
Blood clots, known as thrombi, form within blood vessels in response to damage. These clots consist of platelets and fibrin, creating a seal to prevent further bleeding. Plasmin, a protease found in the human body, dissolves these clots during the wound-healing process.
Nattokinase exhibits a clot-dissolving power equal to or even 10 times stronger than plasmin, making it the most potent clot-dissolving enzyme known.
By promoting the breakdown of blood clots, nattokinase helps reduce the risk of thrombosis-related conditions such as myocardial infarction and cerebral infarction.
● Hypertension Preventive Effects
Nattokinase has shown favorable effects on blood pressure regulation and hypertension prevention. It aids in the degradation of renin, a substance responsible for raising blood pressure, thereby helping prevent hypertension. Additionally, nattokinase and natto soybean decomposition products (natto peptides) inhibit the action of ACE (Angiotensin-converting enzyme), which narrows blood vessels, further contributing to the prevention of increased blood pressure levels.
● Cholesterol-lowering effect
Studies have indicated that nattokinase plays a role in lowering cholesterol levels. This effect is believed to be a result of improved blood flow resulting from the breakdown of blood clots through the action of nattokinase. Furthermore, individuals consuming nattokinase have reported benefits such as reduced sensitivity to cold and alleviation of swelling.
Emerging Research Findings: Exciting new research has expanded our understanding of nattokinase’s potential benefits.
- Degradation of Amyloid β (Beta) and the Spike Protein of Covid-19: Recent studies have shown that nattokinase may have the ability to degrade amyloid β (beta), the causative agent of Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, preliminary research suggests that nattokinase can degrade the spike protein of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). These findings open up new possibilities for the potential therapeutic applications of nattokinase.
- Cutting-Edge Research Applications: Nattokinase has been utilized in cutting-edge research projects, highlighting its versatility and potential beyond cardiovascular health. For instance, the Department of Ophthalmology at Kumamoto University has explored its use as an ophthalmic surgical aid in vitreous detachment procedures. Additionally, Michigan State University has employed nattokinase in the 3D culture of ES cells, demonstrating its value in various scientific fields.
Precautions when taking Nattokinase
While nattokinase offers significant health benefits, it is crucial to take precautions when obtaining it naturally from natto.
- Avoid Mixing Natto with Acidic Ingredients: Nattokinase is sensitive to acid and may break down when natto is mixed with vinegar, black vinegar, kimchi, or other acidic foods. To preserve the integrity of nattokinase, it is recommended to consume natto without combining it with acidic ingredients.
- Minimize Heating of Natto: Excessive heat can also degrade nattokinase. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid heating natto before consumption to retain the enzyme’s beneficial properties.
- Optimal Timing for Consumption: To maximize the thrombolytic (clot-dissolving) effect of nattokinase, consuming natto at dinner or before bedtime is considered more effective. During the early morning hours when the human biorhythm is at its lowest, blood clots are more likely to form. Taking nattokinase before bed can help prevent thrombosis in the early morning, safeguarding against related health risks.
In conclusion, nattokinase, the remarkable enzyme derived from natto, offers a plethora of health benefits, including its clot-dissolving properties, hypertension prevention, and cholesterol-lowering effects. Ongoing research continues to uncover exciting possibilities for nattokinase’s therapeutic potential, including its role in degrading amyloid β (beta) and the spike protein of Covid-19. By adhering to precautions such as avoiding acidic ingredients and minimizing heat exposure, individuals can fully harness the advantages of this traditional Japanese fermented food. Incorporating nattokinase into a balanced diet may contribute to improved cardiovascular health, overall well-being, and a reduced risk of thrombosis-related conditions.