The other day I mentioned that my standard go-tos for sick days are rest and fluids–soup being one of those fluids. My all time favorite comfort soup for sick days is miso soup.
Japanese miso is most commonly made from soybeans, but can also be made with rice, barley, rye, buckwheat, millet, azuki beans, chickpeas and other grains. The chosen bean or grains are formed into a paste, combined with salt, and then fermented with a special mold culture called koi in a process that takes anywhere from three months to three years. It comes in different kinds of flavors and colors, depending on the type of grains used and how long it is fermented, from deep savory browns and reds to more mild light yellows. Miso is particularly renowned for its healing properties by virtue of the many minerals and antioxidants it contains.
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb
Probably one of the most famous example of using miso as a powerful healing supplement occurred after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. In a hospital only 1.4 km from the bomb site, Dr. Tatsuichiro Akizuki observed that his patients and staff were mysteriously avoiding acute radiation sickness–unlike other nearby hospitals which noted horrible radiation effects amongst thousands of patients. He believed this was due to the steady intake of miso and along with a simple diet of whole grains, such as brown rice, and vegetables, without sugar. Dr. Akizuki concluded that the key was to ingest miso before exposure as a preventive measure that blocked the negative effects of radiation.
But HOW can bean paste block radiation sickness? One theory is that the minerals and antioxidants found in miso, such as zinc, copper, and manganese, work to protect the body from cell damage by oxidizing free radicals. (Szalay) Very briefly, free radicals are atoms, molecules or ions that have lost electrons, making them unstable. They then attempt to capture their lost electron from other compounds, causing a chain reaction of destabilization that leads to mass cell damage. Some free radicals are formed as part of the natural chemical processes in the body, such as metabolism or immune mechanisms, but they can also be formed by outside factors, including radiation. Antioxidants, such as those found in miso, restore stability to free radicals by donating one of their own electrons. Fortunately, they do not themselves become free radicals because they are stable in either form, and the harmful chain reaction caused by free radicals is ended.
Cancer and Tumors
Does miso soup affect cancer too? Miso contains amazing chemicals called isoflavones which have long been thought to prevent cancers. Isoflavones like genistein and daidzein have been the focus of many studies for their ability to inhibit cancer-causing agents (i.e., anticarcinogenic properties). The effectiveness and exact mechanism for this is still subject to study.
One possibility is the fact that isoflavones like genistein act as an enzyme inhibitor which can suppress the growth of cancerous cells being generated by faulty enzyme activity. Enzymes are chemicals within the body which serve as “messengers,” relaying signals and biological information by acting as chemical “on” and “off” switches for specific types of cellular activity. They are responsible for keeping all the processes in your body happening when and how they should. Should enzymes become mutated, they may tell the cell to do the wrong thing. For example, the switch could become stuck in the “on” position resulting in unregulated cellular growth (and potentially form a tumor). Thus, neutralizing these enzyme triggers can regulate cell signal pathways and stop further cancerous activity. The beauty of this kind of therapy is that it works by deactivating mutated enzymes and improper cell signals, working to halt cancerous processes without the serious side effects of other cancer treatments. (Messina; Shulhn-Der)
Whatever the exact mechanism, epidomological studies conducted over decades have shown that consuming miso and soybean products correlates with a lowered risk of various cancers, including lung cancer (Nishi; Tuyns), intestinal cancer (Wakai), and breast cancer (Yamamoto).
Other Healing and Nutritional Properties
Miso contains a nice dose of zinc which is known to help heal wounds and boost the immune system. In addition, vitamin K in miso aids blood clotting and prevents bleeding and blood loss after injury. Miso is high in protein, high in fiber, and–being a fermented food–offers probiotics and good bacteria for a healthy functioning digestive tract.
All of these components working together make miso an excellent dietary choice during all kinds of recuperation.
My Super Easy, Super Lazy Miso Soup Bowl
This is what I do when I want miso soup. You will need:
- A couple chopped green onions
- A handful of tofu cubes
- 1-2 Tbsp miso paste
Boil about 2 cups of water (bowl’s worth) in a saucepan. Reduce heat, throw onions in and simmer for a few minutes. Turn heat off and throw tofu cubes in let sit a minute or two for the tofu to heat through. Pour into a bowl, add miso, and gently mix with a spoon until the miso is fully dissolved. Enjoy!
“Miso Soup Benefits.” Med-Health.net. Accessed 12 Mar 2017. http://www.med-health.net/Miso-Soup-Benefits.html.
King, Margie. “Miso Protects Against Radiation, Cancer and Hypertension.” GreenMedInfo.com. 20 Aug 2013. Accessed 12 Mar 2017. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/miso-protects-against-radiation-cancer-and-hypertension
Messina MJ, Persky V, Setchell KD, Barnes S. Soy intake and cancer risk: a review of the in vitro and in vivo data. Nutr Cancer 1994; 21: 113–31.
Nishi M, Yoshida K, Hirata K, Miyake H. Eating habits and colorectal cancer. Oncol Rep. 1997 Sep-Oct; 4(5):995-8.
Szalay, Jessie. “What Are Free Radicals?” LiveScience.com. 27 May 2016. Accessed 12 Mar 2017. http://www.livescience.com/54901-free-radicals.html.
Tuyns AJ, Kaaks R, Haelterman M. Colorectal cancer and the consumption of foods: a case-control study in Belgium. Nutr Cancer. 1988; 11(3):189-204.
Wakai K, Ohno Y, Genka K, Ohmine K, Kawamura T, Tamakoshi A, Lin Y, Nakayama T, Aoki K, Fukuma S. Risk modification in lung cancer by a dietary intake of preserved foods and soyfoods: findings from a case-control study in Okinawa, Japan. Lung Cancer. 1999 Sep; 25(3):147-59.
Wang, Shulhn-Der, Bor-Chyuan Chen, Shung-Te Kao, Ching-Ju Liu and Chia-Chou Yeh. Genistein inhibits tumor invasion by suppressing multiple signal transduction pathways in human hepatocellular carcinoma cells. BMC Complement & Altern Med 2014; 26.
Wolff, Meg. “Radiation and Miso’s Hopeful Healing Powers.” The Huffington Post. 25 May 2011. Accessed 12 Mar 2017. http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/836744.
Yamamoto, Seiichiro, Tomotaka Sobue, Mints Kobayashi, Satoshi Sasaki, & Shoichiro Tsugane. Soy, Isoflavones, and Breast Cancer Risk in Japan. J Natl Cancer Inst (2003) 95 (12): 906-913.
Our Pledge Against Animal Testing
Growing Ivy does NOT support animal testing and thus we avoid directly citing scientific studies involving experimentation on animals. If you notice a resource we have cited wherein animal testing was used, please notify us.