According to the experts — many of
them, anyway — natto is the perfect
food for curing what ails most Americans.
There’s a large body (pun!) of evidence
suggesting that eating natto on a daily basis
significantly reduces the risk of heart disease,
stroke, and high blood pressure (all exacerbated
or caused by excessive blood-clotting), as
well as arthritis and rheumatism (caused
by stiff or swollen internal tissues). It
is bold to claim that natto can prevent so
many ailments, and unless you dig a little
deeper, it probably seems no more reliable
than the claims made for any other health-food
or supplement. But I think natto is different.
The evidence is there, and it’s worth
paying attention to, if only for a few minutes…
The specific details of how natto does its
magic are still being sorted out in scientific
inquiries, but it appears pretty safe for
us to think of it as a natural dispersing
agent inside your body; when things (especially
certain proteins) start getting together
and creating problematic little bundles of
blood or tissue, natto helps them to relax
and break apart again.
This property of natto appears to be due
to the presence of a unique enzyme, called nattokinase,
which was first identified by Dr. Hiroyuki
Sumi in 1980. He was studying the thrombus-destroying
power of a variety of conventional medicines
at Chicago University, and put some natto
in the Petri dish on a whim. (“Thrombus”
is one of many technical names for a blood
clot that blocks arterial flow, causing heart
attacks, etc.). Anyway, the thrombus was
completely dissolved with 18 hours, which
was far less time than what was needed for
any of the other medicines he was working
with. So he was impressed. He went on to
isolate nattokinase as the active agent in
natto, and has since examined its significance
extensively; he remains a pioneer in the
field. (People in the industry are fond of
referring to him as “Dr. Natto”).
His studies are widely available in English
online, but here’s a decent place to
start if you’re interested in a little
more depth: http://content.karger.com/ProdukteDB/produkte.asp?Doi=205051&Scope=archiv.
I’m not a biologist, chemist, or otherwise
certified professional, but I have read a
bit of what those folks have published, and
it appears that there is one overwhelming
component in the body’s formation of
both blood clots and stiff internal tissues.
It’s name is fibrin. Fibrin is a naturally
occurring substance, created when two proteins
— fibrinogen and thrombin — interact.
Fibrin is essential to many bodily functions,
but when you’ve got too much of it,
bad things start to happen. And (you guessed
it) most Americans have too much of it. Nattokinase
is an extremely effective fibrin-destroyer
(fibrinolytic agent, its called), which is
a large part of what makes it so good for
you — think of the dissolving thrombus
in the Petri dish — but before we can
appreciate this point fully we should probably
take a closer look at fibrin and its constituent
Here’s an interesting little story
about fibrinogen: back in 1929, a few curious
men working at the Rockefeller Institute
removed the livers from a number of rabbits
and observed that these (in technical terms,
hepatectomized) bunnies ceased to produce fibrinogen. Wow!
From that time on, the liver was acknowledged
as the body’s sole source of fibrinogen.
Though it’s unclear why exactly this
was considered important at the time, subsequent
studies have revealed fibrinogen to be an
important ingredient in a wide spectrum of
bodily functions…and have supported
the supposition that your liver is its only
But fibrinogen still isn’t too exciting
all by itself; once it comes into contact
with thrombin, however, some interesting
things start to happen. As far as I can tell, thrombin is pretty
amazing stuff. It is basically an all-purpose
glue for proteins, which – I’m
sure you’ll be interested to know –
has led to some sensational commercial applications.
Most notably, a Nebraska-based company has
isolated thrombin from the blood of pigs
and cows, named it Fibrimex, and figured
out how to use it for creating all kinds
of hybrid meat products like bacon-shrimp
and bacon-salmon. They call the process “cold
bonding,” and it’s basically
a synthetic version of what goes on inside
your body when fibrinogen and thrombin interact.
(Rarely do we get such instructive visual
analogues to internal biochemical processes).
Fibrimex is billed as “a tool in innovative
protein design [that] will change the way
you think about meat.” Apparently they
don’t realize how scary that sounds.
Anyway, both fibrinogen and thrombin are
produced by the liver (via a complex cascade
of reactions), and together they are vital
to a number of your body’s daily functions.
Namely, they help your blood to clot and
various of your tissues to remain intact.
Obviously, if your blood doesn’t clot
you’ll bleed to death from even the
tiniest of scratches, and if your tissues
don’t remain intact neither will you.
So fibrinogen + thrombin (= fibrin) is great.
But again, only in the right amount.
When your liver isn’t happy (from processing
too many toxins or fats, for example), it
can start producing way more fibrin than
you need, and you can start getting clots
inside your arteries and/or stiff tissues,
leading to heart attack and/or stroke, arthritis
and/or rheumatism. Not fun. But depressingly
So now maybe we have a little better understanding
of the importance of natto in our daily meals?
Nattokinase — the key component in
natto — is the strongest fibrinolytic
enzyme out there. In acute situations (like
right after a heart-attack), nattokinase
seems to break fibrin apart at least as effectively
as the enzymes used in any of the drugs currently
prescribed by western doctors. (I’d
probably get shot for writing that natto
actually works better than those drugs —
all I’m saying is that the enzyme nattokinase
works more effectively than the enzymes those
drugs employ — urokinase, originally
isolated from human urine, for example).
But, as with most medicine-food, natto seems
to work best when you take it little and
often — as a preventative measure.
(This is true partly because natto stimulates
your body’s production of other fibrinolytic
agents, and doesn’t work on nattokinase
alone). It seems that when you eat natto
on a regular basis, the acute disasters caused
by clotting and stiffening are far less likely
to appear. (For more details, you might start
Anyway, the Japanese Ministry of Health and
Welfare has granted nattokinase the status
of a medicine, and regularly recommends that
Japanese citizens eat more natto. Though
we can’t expect the FDA to follow suit
any time soon, I’d rather not wait
around until they figure it out…in
the meantime, it seems like a safe bet to
eat natto a few times a week, forget about
the medicines, and go on enjoying life. That’s
my plan, anyway.