by: Ralph E. Holsworth, Jr., D.O.
Emerging research dealing with enzymes and other nutrients improves our ability to utilize natural alternatives as a means of enhancing our overall wellness. In particular, cardiovascular health is one area that has shown remarkable strides in terms of providing natural and effective solutions. The fibrinolytic enzyme nattokinase is one nutrient worth discussing in greater detail. But in order to understand how this enzyme works, let's first examine the facts surrounding some bodily processes that warrant its attention.
Fibrin is a protein that forms in the blood after trauma or injury. This is essential to stop excess blood loss. There are more than 20 enzymes in the body that assist in clotting the blood, while only one (plasmin) can break the clot down. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins present in the blood also trigger an inflammatory condition resulting in excess cross-linked fibrin.
When there is no danger of blood loss and trauma has not occurred, this cross-linked fibrin will circulate through the blood and stick to the walls of blood vessels. This contributes to the formation of blood clots, slows blood flow, and increases blood viscosity - all contributing to the elevation of blood pressure.
In the heart, these clots cause blockage of blood flow to heart muscle tissue. Consequently, the oxygen supply to that tissue is partially cut off (ischemia), which can result in angina and heart attacks, or if prolonged, death of heart muscle (necrosis). Clots in chambers of the heart can mobilize to the brain, blocking blood and oxygen from reaching necessary areas, resulting in senility, stroke, or both.
Thrombolytic enzymes (which break down blood clots) are normally generated in the endothelial cells of the blood vessels. As the body ages, production of these enzymes begins to decline, making blood more prone to coagulation. This mechanism can lead to cardiac or cerebral infarction, as well as other conditions. Since endothelial cells exist throughout the body, such as the arteries, veins, and lymphatic system, poor production of thrombolytic enzymes can lead to the development of blood clots and the conditions caused by them virtually anywhere in the body.
Nearly 20 years ago, Hiroyuki Sumi, M.D., a researcher from the Japan Ministry of Education who was majoring in physiological chemistry at the blood laboratory of the University of Chicago, had been conducting research on thrombolytic enzymes. He searched for a natural agent that could successfully dissolve thrombus associated with cardiac and cerebral infarction (blood clots associated with heart attacks and stroke). Dr. Sumi found that the sticky part of natto, a fermented Japanese soy food, exhibited strong fibrinolytic (blood clot-busting) activity. He named the corresponding fibrinolytic enzyme "nattokinase" and further commented that it showed "a potency matched by no other enzyme."
In 1986, Dr. Sumi presented the results of his research in Japan for the first time at the Japan Agricultural Chemistry Society. Later, he wrote an article for the International Thrombolytic Association which concluded that the dietary intake of nattokinase was the major contributor to the longevity of Japanese people.
Nattokinase has been the subject of 17 studies, including two small human trials. Researchers from Biotechnology Research Laboratories and JCR Pharmaceuticals Co. of Kobe, Japan, have tested its ability to dissolve a thrombus in the carotid arteries of rats. Animals that were treated with nattokinase regained 62 percent of blood flow, whereas those treated with plasmin regained just 15.8 percent.
Researchers from JCR Pharmaceuticals, Oklahoma State University, and Miyazaki Medical College tested nattokinase on 12 healthy Japanese volunteers (six men and six women, between the ages of 21 and 55). They gave the volunteers 200 grams of natto before breakfast, then tracked fibrinolytic activity through a series of blood plasma tests. The tests indicated that the natto generated a heightened ability to dissolve blood clots. On average, the volunteers' ELT (a measure of how long It takes to dissolve a blood clot) dropped by 48 percent within two hours of treatment. Volunteers also retained an enhanced ability to dissolve blood clots for two to eight hours. As a control procedure, researchers later fed the same amount of boiled soybeans to the same volunteers and tracked their fibrinolytic activity. These tests showed no significant change.
Nattokinase is a particularly potent treatment because it enhances the body's natural ability to fight blood clots in several different ways. Additional benefits Include the convenience of oral administration, confirmed efficacy, prolonged effects, cost effectiveness, and the fact that it can be used preventatively. It is a naturally occurring dietary supplement that has demonstrated stability in the gastrointestinal tract. The properties of nattokinase closely resemble those properties of plasmin in that it also dissolves fibrin directly. More importantly, it enhances the body's production of both plasmin and other clot-dissolving agents, including urokinase (endogenous).
Nattokinase may actually be superior to conventional clot-dissolving drugs such as recombinant tissue plasminogen activators (rt-PA), urokinase, and streptokinase, which are only effective therapeutically when taken intravenously within 12 hours of a stroke or heart attack. Nattokinase, however, may help prevent the conditions leading to blood clots with a dose of only 2,000 fibrin units or 50 grams, of natto per day.
Sumi, H. et al. 1990. Enhancement of the fibrinolytic activity in plasma by oral administration of nattokinase. Acta Haematologica (84): 139-143.
Fujita, M. et al. 1995. Transport of nattokinase across the rat intestinal tract. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 18(9): 1994-1196.
Yamamoto, K. et al. 2002. Plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 is a major stress-regulated gene: implications for stress-induced thrombosis in aged individuals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 99(2): 890-895.
Reprinted with permission: Health Products Business • April 2003
Alternative Nattokinase spelling: natokinase, nattokenase, nattokanase, nato kinase, nattokinnase, nattokinese