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Could Fermented Foods Help Hepatitis C?

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Fermented foods are not yet accepted into mainstream America. However, fermented foods are a rich source of antioxidants and micronutrients with the potential to help manage chronic Hepatitis C infection.

After living for just a short period of time with any kind of chronic disease, it quickly becomes clear that the foods we eat can have a dramatic impact on our health. Advocates of a healthy diet as a means to deter the advancement of chronic disease typically promote the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables and lean sources of protein. However, many people fail to appreciate that fermented foods also can play a major role in health maintenance.

As the organ that must cleanse the blood of impurities and perform a substantial portion of necessary life functions, the liver is especially sensitive to what we ingest. Thus, those with chronic liver disease from Hepatitis C are becoming increasingly aware that their food choices can either help or hinder their liver’s health.

Many in the U.S. rarely consider fermented foods to be health food fare. Despite this distinctly American oversight, other cultures have prized fermented foods for their impact on digestion and liver health since ancient times. Upon recognizing some of the properties fermented foods share, it appears that people with Hepatitis C could benefit from this distinctively pungent and sour genre of food.

Initially used as a means to safely store food, humans have been fermenting foods to aid the digestive process for centuries:

  • Stored in goat bags and dropped over the back of camels in the North Africa’s hot deserts, camel milk yielded some of the first yogurts.
  • In ancient Egypt, the Greeks and Romans consumed pickles to promote liver and gallbladder health.

Fermentation is a controlled process of food decomposition. With the addition of a specific culture in the absence of oxygen, food is broken down. Fermentation creates new nutrients and beneficial digestive bacteria that help us digest and assimilate food. Since it doesn’t involve heat, fermentation retains enzymes, vitamins and other nutrients that are usually destroyed by food processing. Some of the more well-known fermented foods, include:

  • Kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage)
  • Sauerkraut (unpasteurized: made with bacteria, not vinegar)
  • Natto (a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans)
  • Brewed soy sauce
  • Kefir (a fermented milk drink)
  • Umeboshi (pickled Japanese plums)
  • Yogurt (containing live cultures)
  • Kombucha* (fermented tea)
  • Miso (a fermented paste made from either rice, soybeans, barley or chickpeas)
  • Pickles (made with bacteria, not vinegar)
  • Poi (fermented, mashed tarot root)

Besides the recognition that eating fermented foods helps with the digestion and assimilation process, several studies have shown even more benefit to those with chronic liver disease.

  • A well-known substance used by virtually every cell of the body to neutralize toxins, glutathione can protect the liver from being damaged by Hepatitis C. Unfortunately, clinical studies have demonstrated that the level of glutathione is significantly depressed in many people with Hepatitis C. In a 2007 edition of the journal BioFactors, Japanese researchers investigated the antioxidant activity of a fermented grain. They found that fermented grain resulted in a significant increase in cellular glutathione levels, an obvious benefit to those with Hepatitis C.
  • As published in the April 2006 edition of Oncology Reports, investigators studied the effects of fermented brown rice on the development of hereditary hepatitis in rats. They found that the fermented food helped prevent the development of hepatitis. In addition, they concluded that fermented brown rice played a role in protecting the rat’s liver from free radicals, an event that could potentially delay the progression of Hepatitis C in humans.
  • In the May 2009 edition of the journal Nutrition, German researchers studied the effects of a fermented food concentrate (Regulat) in healthy volunteers. They found that the intake of this fermented food significantly strengthened immune function by enhancing intracellular glutathione content.

Up to this point, no large-scale clinical trials on fermented foods and Hepatitis C have been conducted. However, the general digestive benefits and reported properties of fermented foods make it a culinary delicacy worth investigating further. We know that food can have a dramatic impact on the liver’s health. Thus, consuming a fermented food that is known to boost glutathione levels is a logical choice for those who are managing chronic Hepatitis C.

* While several studies have demonstrated an antioxidant effect of Kombucha tea, there are a handful of reports that suggest Kombucha tea is toxic in humans. Although the reported harmful effects are sparse compared to the number of people who drink this tea, there is no way to guarantee its safety. Because of this, many healthcare practitioners advise to only consume Kombucha tea when it is prepared hygienically and to limit its consumption to a maximum of twice a week.

References:

http://iospress.metapress.com/content/d7043727n3175631/, Assessment of antioxidative activity of extract from fermented grain food mixture using chemical and cellular systems, Yoko Ogawa, et al, BioFactors, 2007.

http://www.care2.com/greenliving/fermented-foods-essential-digestive-aids.html, Fermented Foods: Essential Digestive Aids, Delia Quigley, Retrieved December 17, 2009, Care2.com, Inc., 2009.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16525673?itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum&ordinalpos=4, Inhibitory effects of fermented brown rice and rice bran on the development of acute hepatitis in Long-Evans Cinnamon rats, Shibata T, et al, Retrieved December 18, 2009, Oncology Reports, April 2006.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19061947?itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum&ordinalpos=1, Niuchangchih (Antrodia camphorata) and its potential in treating liver diseases, Ao ZH, et al, Retrieved December 18, 2009, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, January 2009.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19121921, Regulatory effects of a fermented food concentrate on immune function parameters in healthy volunteers, Schoen C, et al, Retrieved December 18, 2009, Nutrition, May 2009.

http://www.regulat.net/, Regulat ®, Retrieved December 18, 2009, eCommerce Engine, 2009.

http://www.treelight.com/health/nutrition/Fermentation.html, The Importance of Fermentation, Eric Armstrong, Retrieved December 19, 2009, treelight.com, 2009.

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