Perhaps you’ve heard about nattokinase, a natural enzyme that recent studies have shown to have anticoagulant properties. Perhaps you’d like to know more.

Any discussion of nattokinase must begin with a discussion of natto. To the uninitiated, natto – a sticky, smelly dish of fermented soybeans – is intimidating. But I Japan, natto has been a staple in traditional diets for thousands of years.

Traditionally, natto was made by soaking soybeans in water and then streaming them before finally mixing the beans with rice straw and allowing the mixture to ferment for 24 hours. When Bacillus natto, a bacterium found in rice straw, combines with the soybeans, nattokinase is born. Without the bacteria, natto would be just another bowl of stinky beans.

In the early twentieth century, researchers discovered a way to introduce B. natto to the soybeans without using straw, therefore simplifying the process of making natto and producing more consistent results.

With its sticky appearance and strong odor (if you like blue cheese, you’ll love natto), natto is an acquired taste, and even in Japan natto consumption is mostly limited to the eastern region of Kanto. But despite its smell and appearance, natto has a surprisingly mild taste and has been used in Japan for ages as a folk remedy to treat heart and vascular diseases as well as fatigue and beriberi. Even Japanese pets, who don’t seem to mind the smell and texture, have enjoyed natto as an ingredient in their food, and it has allegedly improved their health. However, the scope and degree of the benefits of nattokinase were not documented until fairly recently.

Nattokinase and Blood Clots

Japanese researcher Dr. Hiroyuki Sumi wanted to find a natural enzyme that would help dissolve blood clots, which are associated with heart attacks and strokes. Because heart disease and stroke are the first and third most common causes of death in the United States and account for more deaths than all cancers and injuries combined, discovering a natural supplement that prevents cardiovascular disease would be a great leap forward. Even more so if that supplement had already been in use for thousands of years and provide a number of additional benefits.

In 1980, Dr. Sumi tested over 173 natural foods as part of his research. You can imagine his joy when he dropped natto in a Petri dish containing fibrin (a protein involved in the clotting of blood) and the natto completely dissolved the fibrin within 18 hours.

Fibrin is a natural protein in our blood that helps blood clot in response to injury or trauma. The clotting process is vital; however, problems occur when the body is unable to completely break down the clots after they have served their purpose.

The body produces more than 20 enzymes to create blood clots, but only one – plasmin – to eliminate them. If the body produces too little plasmin, it cannot completely dissolve blood clots, and fragments will flow through the bloodstream, damaging blood vessel linings and sometimes clocking blood vessels completely.

Blood carries oxygen throughout the body. If a blood clot cuts off that oxygen supply, tissues will eventually die. A blood clot in the heart can cause angina and heart attacks. A blood clot in the brain can cause a stroke.

Nattokinase, which dissolves fibrin and stimulates the body’s production of plasmin, seems to clean up old blood clots that would otherwise circulate through the bloodstream and damage blood vessels. This is in contrast to current pharmaceutical drugs, which inhibit platelet aggregation, interfering with the blood’s normal ability to clot.

“In some ways, nattoknase is actually superior to conventional clot-dissolving drugs”, said Dr. Milner of the Center for Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. “T-Pas [tissue plasminogen activators] like urokinase [ an anti-clotting agent] are only effective when taken intravenously and often fail simply because a stroke or heart-attack victim’s arteries have been hardened beyond the poi8nt where they can be treated by any other clot-dissolving agent. Nattokinase, however, can help prevent that hardening”.

Aging patients are the most likely to benefit from the blood-thinning effects of nattokinase. As the body ages, plasmin production decreases, making the blood more likely to clot and increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. Nattokinase will be most beneficial to those who suffer from conditions involving clogged arteries; for example, patients with senile dementia caused by clocked cerebral arteries.

In a recent human study, researchers from JCR Pharmaceuticals, Oklahoma State Universtiy and Miyazaki Medical College (in Japan) tested nattokinase on 12 healthy Japanese volunteers – six women and six men between the ages of 12 and 55. The researchers gave the volunteers seven ounces of natto before breakfast and then tracked the volunteers’ fibrinolytic activity (or breakdown of fibrin) through a series of blood tests.

In one test, the researchers took a blood sample and artificially induced a clot. Within two hours of treatment, the time needed to dissolve clots in the blood of patients who had received nattokinase was half of what it was in the blood of patients who had not received nattokinase. The increased ability to dissolve blood clots lasted for up to eight hours.

In another study, Dr. Sumi’s team conducted a test on two groups of dogs: one group received nattokinase tablets and the other group received a placebo. The researchers then created a clot in each dog, completely blocking a major leg vein. Within five hours, circulation had been completely restored in the nattokinase-fed dogs; in contrast, the placebo-fed dogs still had a complete vein blockage 18 hours later.

In 1995, Japanese researchers tested nattokinase’s ability to dissolve blood clots in the carotid arteries of rats. Animals treated with nattokinase regained 62 percent of blood flow, while those treated with plasmin regained only 15.8 percent of blood flow.

In 2003, researchers from the Hamamatsu University School of Medicine induced endothelial (the inner lining of blood vessels) damage in the femoral arteries of rats that had been given nattokinase. Under normal circumstances, blood clotting and a thickening of arterial walls would occur; however, the fibrinolytic activity of nattokinase suppressed both.

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