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Japanese Guts Are Made For Sushi 309

cremeglace writes "Americans don't have the guts for sushi. At least that's the implication of a new study, which finds that Japanese people harbor enzymes in their intestinal bacteria that help them digest seaweed, enzymes that North Americans lack. What's more, Japanese may have first acquired these enzymes by eating bacteria that thrive on seaweed in the open ocean."


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Japanese Guts Are Made For Sushi

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  • Stomach cancer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:18AM (#31772372)

    I wonder if that bacteria is (part of) the reason stomach cancer is a major killer in Japan. Lost a friend to it.

  • Implications (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:18AM (#31772380)

    This doesn't seem evolutionary so much as it appears that they grew up eating the bacteria. If I'm wrong, would somebody please tell me where my thought process is hitting a disconnect?

  • by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:20AM (#31772386)
    I thought that everyone started out with pretty much zero gut bacteria and acquire them based on what they eat. (And sometimes people lose all their gut bacteria from various medical treatments and have to work to restore them.)

    So the japanese end up with the bacteria/enzymes do digest sushi because... they eat a lot of sushi. Presumably anyone else could develop a colony of such bacteria/enzymes by also eating a lot of sushi?

    That would mean the division isn't whether you're Japanese or American or something else. It's just whether or not you eat a lot of sushi.
  • by polar red ( 215081 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:27AM (#31772422)

    I tought we got some of our mothers' bacterial community during pregnancy. is there a biologist or doctor in the room ?

  • North Americans? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Froeschle ( 943753 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:31AM (#31772440)
    What about North Americans of Japanese decent?
  • by Misanthrope ( 49269 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:37AM (#31772460)

    Some of your gut microflora and fauna comes from your mom during the birthing process, others from breastfeeding and some from what you eat on a regular basis. This is interesting because the genes are transferred supposedly from the bugs living on seaweed to the bugs living in your gut, letting the same species of gut bugs to develop an ability to digest seaweed better.

  • Re:Stomach cancer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gomiam ( 587421 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:55AM (#31772558)
    Bacteria (helicobacter pylorii, more specifically) are related to a lot of ulcer-induced stomach cancer. As the bacteria they talk about live in the intestines (that's what gut means) I don't think they have much to do with it. I may be mistaken, though.
  • Ammo for Racism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eheien ( 94444 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:58AM (#31772574)

    Just what we need, more "Japanese are unique" idiocy to justify racism and discrimination in Japan. So far we've heard that "Japanese intestines are longer [], so Japanese can't eat foreign beef", "Japanese brains are unique [], so only Japanese people can speak the Japanese language." and so on, all of which are supported by pseudo-scientific studies such as this one.

    This sort of incomplete research just feeds the view of racial uniqueness (and superiority) among Japanese and justifies their racism and discrimination against others.

  • Bowel obstruction (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AlpineR ( 32307 ) <> on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:47AM (#31772798) Homepage

    Speaking of cold, dead digestive tracts: A few years ago, I got terribly ill while on vacation. Loss of appetite, waves of tremendous abdominal cramps, and vomiting. My intestines had plugged up and it took some intervention to get them moving again.

    I put some of the blame on a sushi lunch I ate that day. I'd eaten sushi often before, but this restaurant used a lot more seaweed in the dishes than I was accustomed to. Even as I was eating, I had second thoughts about whether what I was putting into my mouth was actually edible. But I figured it seemed strange to me only because that Japanese restaurant was more authentic than the Americanized sushi places where I usually dined.

    Now I wonder whether that seaweed would be edible to Japanese guts, but truly was inedible to mine.

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @04:22AM (#31772960) Homepage

    A large proportion suffer lactose intolerance which means milk and yoghurts are out though I believe they can still eat some cheeses where the lactose has been converted into something else. If anyone has ever wondered why you never see dairy food in chinese or japanese restaurants - theres your answer.

    Anyway , most veg if cooked long enough can be digested by the human gut so these enzymes only give them an advantage if they eat it partially cooked or raw.

  • by mattr ( 78516 ) <> on Thursday April 08, 2010 @04:25AM (#31772966) Homepage Journal

    TFA is not clear whether non-Japanese really cannot break down seaweed at all.
    In Japan it is popular to buy yogurt with live culture, for example there is Meiji's LB51 (lacto bacillus 51) yogurt supposedly good for your gut.
    Might be cool if a yogurt with this organism is made.
    Of course if you could just eat non-sterile seaweed maybe it would make a culture for you in your gut.. anybody know about edible seaweeds that would have this?
    I've had seaweed salad and maybe that would have it.
    Also the American gut is supposedly longer does that balance not having the enzyme at all?

  • Nothing new really (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Nephrite ( 82592 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @04:56AM (#31773122) Journal

    Let's recall that tribes that life off hunting have more lactose intolerant people that those that practice livestock breeding, that certain northern tribes of Chukchas and Eskimo doesn't have ensimes to get rid of alcohol so they become alcoholics easily and so on and so on.

  • by evilandi ( 2800 ) <> on Thursday April 08, 2010 @06:42AM (#31773584) Homepage

    I didn't realise that the appetite for sushi amongst the Sioux, Cherokee and other North Americans was quite such a concern.

    Or did they mean Europeans?

    If you're going to discuss genetic differences, you do need to be accurate.

  • To tune your guts... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AlecC ( 512609 ) <> on Thursday April 08, 2010 @07:57AM (#31774016)

    So Japanese people have a seaweed digesting bacterium in their guts. So sushi restaurants could offer visiting westerners a small culture of this bacterium, and they would be set up to digest the seaweed. Before you go "Ewww, bacteria!", this is just what is being offered commercially as "pro-biotic yogurt". You would probably need a top-up on every visit to Japan, because the bacterium would probably die out without a regular supply of seaweed.

  • by Sleepy ( 4551 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @08:03AM (#31774058) Homepage

    >Genes don't transfer from bacteria to mammals.

    I would not cling to that view too strongly - there's some circumstantial evidence that genes can be transfered between unrelated species. Don't ask me to explain it - it's not understood as yet. But as an example you could Google, some GMO genes are being found in plant and insect species and it looks like the result of an unknown transfer process. It may be that mutations are not entirely random, but can be based on exposure (such as diet).

  • Re:Implications (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bkr1_2k ( 237627 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @08:31AM (#31774292)

    Newborns don't have the enzymes (supposedly) to break down meat either, but we in the western world seem to do fine with that. I suspect this is more like you're thinking, a habitual thing that your body adapts to based on your other dietary intakes.

  • if you artificially make the birthing process clean, you are not adequately inoculating your baby's digestive tract with the mother's gut flora

    perhaps setting the kid up for opportunistic infection in the first days of life, inadequate digestion, malformed immune system (allergies), etc.

    so you reacted to the ugliness of getting shat upon by your mother at birth, but your delicate sensibilities are not the issue: for millions of years, getting shit on at birth has meant we evolved with the timing of the introduction of the full spectrum of the mother's gut bacteria at time of birth. meaning a delay in that timing could be unhealthy for normal immune function, normal digestion function, etc.

    we talk about how antiseptic living has increased allergies and other diseases. a clean birthing room might be a part of that constellation of problems. perhaps in the future, healthy child birth will consist of the doctor shoving his finger up the mother's ass and sticking it in the newborn's mouth to ensure full spectrum inoculation. this may sound disgusting to you, but it may be the healthiest thing you can do for a newborn's normal development

  • Re:Bowel obstruction (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jim_v2000 ( 818799 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @11:03AM (#31776434)
    I doubt it. It's not in it has nothing to do with someone being Japanese. It boils down to people who eat more sushi have more of the related bacteria.
  • Re:Stomach cancer (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 08, 2010 @11:16AM (#31776672)
    Just followed your link and noticed that African countries are conspicuously absent. It would be interesting to see if there really is any, uh, substance, to the popular stereotype about black men.
  • Re:Ammo for Racism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HungWeiLo ( 250320 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @01:14PM (#31778592)

    My hunch is that this is an economic strategy. Japan has a history of doing stuff like this before - this is not strictly an example about genetic superiority - but they have claimed that Japanese snow has a unique texture, and therefore only Japanese-manufactured skis are suitable for their ski resorts.

    A lot of seaweed gets exported from China and Korea. This may be to stem the import of foreign seaweed.

  • Re:Americans (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MaskedSlacker ( 911878 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:22PM (#31780636)

    Go away.

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