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Nattokinase: Ancient Food that Packs a Powerful Cardiovascular Punch
by Ken Halvorsrude, Industry Veteran of 30 years and Founder of Doctor's Best

Natto is a traditional fermented food consumed in Japan and other Asian countries. The discovery of nattodates back to ancient times, with sources suggesting its first use between 10,000 and 300 BC. According to one source, its discovery may have been accidental. Boiled soybeans were placed in a bag of straw meant for horses during battle and not opened until a few days later. The beans had fermented and, as this story goes, the soldiers ate them because they liked the taste. Whatever the real story, the food caught on and is consumed at breakfast in many parts of Japan even today.

In the early 1920s, researchers discovered a way to produce natto from a culture containing the bacterium Bacillus subtilis natto, instead of fermenting the soybeans on rice straw (which naturally contains B. natto). In addition to its culinary use, natto has been revered as a folk remedy for cardiovascular diseases for over a 1,000 years.

Dr. Hiroyuki Sumi, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues at Chicago University were researching oral fibrinolytic enzymes in the early 1990s and found that some of the enzymes indeed had clinical efficacy following oral use, but lacked a sustained effect. Further investigations led them to the discovery of an enzyme, nattokinase, derived from the traditional food, natto. Their initial studies suggested that this enzyme was a promising agent for reversing and preventing clot formation in blood vessels and in modulating the coagulation process. The structure of nattokinase was found to resemble endogenous plasmin, a protease enzyme able to digest fibrin clots in the bloodstream. Subsequent research by Dr. Sumi found that nattokinase is stable to temperature variations and survives in both acidic and alkaline conditions, making it a potentially ideal oral fibrinolytic enzyme.

Further studies on nattokinase revealed promising results and unique benefits to cardiovascular health. In 1990, a Dr. Sumi study assessed the effect of nattokinase in dissolving experimentally induced thrombi in dogs. Clotting was induced in a leg vein of male dogs and each dog was given four capsules of nattokinase or a placebo. The dogs receiving nattokinase showed a rapid return to normal circulation and complete clot dissolution within five hours. Dogs receiving the placebo showed no improvement even after 18 hours.

In 1995, a study was conducted on the thrombolytic effect of nattokinase in rats. Earlier research revealed that nattokinase has nearly four times the fibrinolytic activity of endogenous plasmin. In this study, thrombi were induced in the common carotid artery of rats using acetic acid. Following stabilization of the thrombus, one of four agents (including nattokinase) was injected into the femoral vein and the percent recovery of blood flow in the carotid artery was monitored over time. Nattokinase was shown to enhance blood flow in a dose-dependent manner with a 62% recovery relative to baseline at 60 minutes. In contrast, plasmin administration only led to a 15.8% recovery in these animals at 60 minutes. The results indicate that nattokinase possesses strong thrombolytic potential.

Dr. Sumi and colleagues also conducted a study in healthy human volunteers to determine changes in fibrinolytic activity that resulted from consumption of the fermented food, natto. Twelve adult volunteers consumed 200 g of natto daily. Blood tests were used to track changes in fibrinolytic activity. Researchers found that oral intake of natto, which contains nattokinase, enhanced the ability to dissolve blood clots, and this enhanced fibrinolytic activity was maintained for two to eight hours after consumption. As a control, boiled soybeans were fed to the same volunteers. No significant changes in fibrinolytic activity were seen.

Unlike commonly used fibrinolytic agents, research suggests that nattokinase has a longlasting effect in that it prevents blood coagulation and can dissolve pre-formed clots. Fibrinolytic measurements performed with nattokinase suggest that the activity of this enzyme lasts eight to 12 hours. Studies in rats have also shown that nattokinase is efficiently transported across the intestines into the bloodstream, ensuring bioavailability.

With more research currently underway, it is likely that the full benefits of this unique and powerful enzyme, with a history of consumption dating back over 1,000 years, are yet to be elucidated. Nattokinase is a promising option for those individuals looking to dramatically improve heart health and prevent cardiovascular disease.

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