Scientists recently discovered that a pickled turnip popular in Japan fights off the flu virus, giving it a good chance of becoming the world’s next superfood. The traditional Japanese pickle called Suguki or Lactobacillus brevis proved effective at boosting the immune systems of mice exposed to the flu virus. Test results were published in SfAM journal and Letters in Applied Microbiology, and have already spurred human clinical trials.

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While proponents of the pickle have long made their opinions known about the protective properties of Suguki, it isn’t known if the preventative properties will be as effective with humans as they are with mice. Human clinical trials are currently underway that involve a probiotic drink containing Lactobacillus brevis KB290 , which in the right doses could prove as effective as a flu shot.

The bacteria works by increasing production of immune system molecules in the body, which enhance the ability to eradicate virus-infected cells. In this study, these effects were sufficient to prevent infection by the H1N1 flu and the scientists think that there could also be protection against other viral infections, including the deadly H7N9 flu, which has recently emerged in China.

What exactly makes Suguki so powerful is still unknown, but scientists do know that a protective layer of sugars called exopolysaccharides make it extremely resistant to stomach acid, something that would normally prove too much for other bacteria. “We know that exopolysaccharides have immune boosting effects in other similar bacteria,” said Lead investigator Ms Naoko Waki, “so we wonder if the exopolysaccharides of KB290 are responsible for the effects we see.”

Assuming human trials are successful, you could soon expect to see Japanese pickles lining the shelves of your local health food store.


Lead image by I Believe I Can Fry