Nattokinase is an enzyme found in natto, a traditional Japanese food produced from fermented soybeans. It has a cheese-like texture and is typically prepared by boiling or steaming. Natto is made by fermenting soybean paste with a species of bacteria such as Bacillus natto or Bacillus subtilis. Other products made from fermented soybeans also have active enzymes, but only natto contains nattokinase.
Natto’s origins may be almost 1,000 years old. It was originally made by boiling the soybeans and wrapping them in rice straw. This bundle was then buried for a week to enhance the fermentation process. This process is effective in fermenting the soybeans, although the end result is highly variable.
Modern methods of producing natto began in the early 20th century with the use of bacterial starter cultures. A pure culture is injected into the soybeans, although other ingredients like peptone and glucose may also be added at specific times to control the fermentation process more precisely. This technique allows manufacturers to produce natto in large quantities that contains a high level of nattokinase. Natto’s strong flavor makes it an acquired taste, so many people prefer to obtain the health benefits of nattokinase in supplement form.
The biological effects of nattokinase are similar to those of plasmin, which is a naturally-occurring enzyme that degrades fibrin. This action helps to dissolve blood clots, which reduces the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular problems. The clot-dissolving effects of nattokinase are also similar to those of thrombolytic drugs, although nattokinase is less expensive and has a lower risk of side effects.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States rejected nattokinase in 2003 for being misbranded. National Enzyme Company developed Nattozimes® as a result of the need for a natto-like enzyme in the US health supplement market. Nattozimes® is specifically formulated to be a more effective alternative to nattokinase. It’s a protease system with the same activity as nattokinase in the laboratory, known scientifically as its in vitro activity.
The enzymes in Nattozimes® are the fermentation byproducts of the fungus species Aspergillus melleus and Aspergillus oryzae. These species are already acceptable for use in dietary supplements in the United States. Nattozimes® hydrolyze peptide bonds in a manner that gives them a similar in vitro fibrinolytic activity as nattokinase. This activity shows that Nattozimes® supplements can provide cardiovascular and benefits similar to those of nattokinase supplements.
The health benefits of nattokinase primarily derive from its ability to “thin” the blood. This effect helps to support healthy circulation and blood vessel function as well as cognitive and reproductive functions.
Nattokinase may be able to dissolve amyloid deposits in the brain, according to one laboratory study. Amyloids are a class of protein that are more common in people with age-related cognitive dysfunction.
Nattokinase’s role as a proteolytic enzyme may make it useful for managing uterine fibroids.
Studies in Japan show that nattokinase may help to support circulation, especially for people who currently have unhealthy blood pressure. The regimen in these studies consisted of daily supplements of nattokinase for eight weeks.
Some research indicates that supplements containing nattokinase may reduce the risk of a blood clot in the legs. The regimen in this study consisted of 300 mg of the supplement two hours before a flight followed by another 300 mg six hours after the flight.
The most significant signs that you may need nattokinase are any conditions that increase your risk of blood clots, which can cause cardiovascular events such a stroke or heart attack. You may also benefit from nattokinase if you have unhealthy blood pressure, especially systolic pressure. Additional conditions that may mean you should take nattokinase include frequent plane flights and other situations that require you to remain seated for prolonged periods.
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