Health Benefits of Wasabi

WAsabi, Image from Wikimedia CommonsIf Mexico is known for its chili peppers, Japan is known for its wasabi. Japanese restaurants consider wasabi as a “must have” spice. It is used as sauce for a variety of Japanese foods including sushi and sashimi. It is famous for its strong flavor. In chili pepper, the burning sensation is felt in the tongue; in wasabi, the burning sensation is felt in the nasal passage and lasts for few seconds.

Wasabi joins cabbages, horseradish, and mustard in the Brassicacea family. It is not only cultivated in Japan, but also cultivated in mainland China, Taiwan, and New Zealand. Wasabia japonica is the most widely cultivated species of wasabi. Other species that are cultivated too include Wasabia koreana and Wasabia tetsuigi. The root of wasabi is peeled and then finely grated to make wasabi sauce or paste. Fresh leaves of wasabi are edible too.

When it comes to food for longevity, the Japanese are the people to ask.  The Japanese consider their good diet as the reason why they have the highest number of centenarians in the world. They eat a lot of vegetable including wasabi. Is it possible that wasabi promotes longevity?

Yes, it is possible because scientists found out that wasabi contains high concentration of isothiocyanates, which are sulfur compounds that exhibit antimicrobial, anticancer,  anti-inflammatory, anti  stroke, and anti heart attack properties.  Isothiocyanates are formed when glucosinolates are broken down by enzymes. Glucosinolates are released from the cells when wasabi is being macerated by chewing, grinding, etc. Hydrolytic enzymes will react to glucosinolates to finally form isothiocynates. Besides wasabi, isothiocyanates are also found in other vegetables of the Brassicacea family.

Let us look at the health benefits of isothiocyanates found in wasabi.

Wasabi Health Benefits

Antibacterial Properties

Laboratory studies show that isothiocyanate extract from wasabi kills and inhibits the growth of Streptoccocus mutans, Helicobacter pylori, and bacteria that cause food poisoning. S. mutans causes tooth decay while H. pylori increases gastric cancer risk. Wasabi extract has also shown bactericidal effect against some antibiotic-resistant strains. Because wasabi has antibacterial properties, some manufacturers are now making wasabi-based antibacterial hand washes.

Anticancer Properties

Several studies show that there is correlation between higher isothiocyanate ingestion and lower incidence of cancer in populations. Isothiocyanate extract from wasabi and its vegetable relatives has been tested for cell lines derived from lung cancer, breast cancer, leukemia, esophageal cancer, colon cancer, gastric cancer, and prostate cancer. The results show that isothiocyanate extract demonstrates effectiveness against the cancer cell lines.

Inside the body, isothiocyanates enhance the activities of biotransformation enzymes which are abundant in the liver. Biotransformation enzymes help in the elimination and metabolism of toxins, carcinogens, chemicals, and drugs. The enzymes basically transform toxic compounds into their non toxic forms before being eliminated or excreted.

Prevention of Heart Attack and Stroke

Isothiocyanates have blood-thinning or anticoagulation properties. Blood thinners interfere with the physical aggregation of platelets. Blood clot is formed when platelets aggregate to each other. Heart attack and stroke can occur when a blood clot or embolus is lodged in a blood vessel and obstructs it. Consumption of wasabi and other vegetables that contain isothiocyanates will help decrease the risk of embolus formation.

Anti-inflammatory Properties

Studies show that isothiocyanates are able to block the action of inflammatory compounds like cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). COX-2 is among the enzymes responsible for inflammation and pain. Isothiocyanates can help in rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, Crohn’s disease, and other inflammatory diseases.[ad#afterpost]