Horseradish, long used to clear the cavities of the sinuses, may have another medical application. Researchers reported Thursday that it could prevent cavities in the teeth.
Japanese scientists have found that wasabi, the green horseradish served with sushi, contains chemical compounds that inhibit growth of bacteria known to be associated with dental decay.
"We found that the very compounds that give the horseradish its pungent taste and smell also have an inhibitory effect on the sugar-dependent adherence of Streptococcus mutans, the cause of dental caries," said Hideki Masuda, director of Material Research and Development at Ogawa & Co., Ltd., in Chiba, Japan.
The studies involved introducing the compounds into test tubes where the bacteria were growing.
He presented his report during a symposium on functional food ingredients at Pacifichem, the 2000 International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies, meeting in Honolulu.
The compounds, called isothiocyanates, are similar to those that produce the characteristic flavors of broccoli and cabbage, members of the same plant family as Wasabia japonica.
Wasabi's thick stems are ground into a pale green paste that's served with sushi - vinegared rice topped with raw fish, and sashimi, raw fish. The horseradish's antimicrobial properties may account for its popularity as a condiment since it reduces the chances of illnesses associated with eating raw seafood.
While no one is suggesting that horseradish toothpaste is a good idea, the researchers are looking at ways that the compounds might be made less pungent and still retain their effect on bacteria.
The same compounds have also been found in other studies to help prevent some cancers, to prevent blood clots and to have anti-asthmatic properties.
Pacifichem is a weeklong scientific meeting sponsored by the American Chemical Society and counterparts from Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand. The gathering is held once every five years.
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