Wasabi health effects and uses - Wasabia japonica health benefit and review by Ray Sahelian, M.D. (natural medicine health information)
March 20 2016

Wasabi is known as Japanese horseradish and used as a sushi seasoner. The wasabi root is used as a spice and has an extremely strong flavor. It is a member of the cabbage family. The wasabi you find in sushi restaurants has a deep green color. My understanding is that wasabi root itself is green, but that the one in the sushi restaurants has added green dye to it or it could be horseradish. I am not sure whether this is a natural or artificial green dye.

When sold in a supermarket, you may find numerous different types of wasabi paste, but only a few of them actually include the Wasabia Japonica, referred to by the Japanese as "real" wasabi. Most manufacturers use a root called "western wasabi," more commonly known as horseradish. It provides the same sort of burning sensation as the Japanese variety, but not the same color and flavor.

Eur J Nutr. 2016. The induction of apoptosis and autophagy by Wasabia japonica extract in colon cancer. Wasabia japonica wasabi has been shown to exhibit properties of detoxification, anti-inflammation and the induction of apoptosis in cancer cells.  Our studies revealed that wasabi extract exhibits anti-colon cancer properties through the induction of apoptosis and autophagy. These results provide support for the application of wasabi extract as a chemopreventive functional food and as a prospective treatment of colon cancer.

Wasabi and sinus clearing
Many people believe the wasabi clears their sinuses, but new research suggests that the spicy green paste may do the opposite. U.S. researchers found that eating wasabi appeared to increase congestion in a small group of healthy volunteers, despite the fact that participants said they thought that the spice had cleared their nasal passages. "Actually, wasabi is a congestant," says study author Dr. David S. Cameron. "It makes the space of your nasal passages smaller, but it makes you feel more open." Dr. David Cameron explains that wasabi probably clogs up sinuses by increasing blood flow to the lining of the nose. That extra blood takes up space, he said, which constricts the nasal passageway.

Weight effect
Nutr Res Pract. 2013. Anti-obesity effects of hot water extract from Wasabi (Wasabia japonica Matsum.) leaves in mice fed high-fat diets.

Wasabi and Horseradish
Wasabi is often horseradish dyed green, but I have come across a study, see below, that gives wasabi a different species name. At this point I am not sure whether the wasabi in Japanese restaurants is basically horseradish dyed green, or wasabi plant from Japan.

Q. Thank you so much for your informative article about wasabi isothiocyanates. I am a plant scientist and did research on wasabi years ago. Your article supplied the information that I didn’t understand about the chemistry of wasabi. Allow me to explain the dilemma of wasabi found in stores and restaurants, and the fresh wasabi rhizome or root. Hon, nama or sawa wasabi is grown in flowing water, stream-like small beds on mountain sides in Japan. This is the traditional way that the plant is grown and results in a green, rootlike storage structure topped by true leaves. Sawa wasabi is coveted by all sushi lovers in Japan and the world over. The small supply of fresh wasabi can not meet the demand so long ago Japanese condiment companies created the tube or dried canned “wasabi” to use instead. The condiment is delicious and has varied flavors depending on the additives but is mostly made up of dried horseradish (amoracia rusticana). Various dyes and sugars and salts are added to enhance the flavor. Most products in stores and restaurants is this ground white horseradish product, but is called “wasabi”. Even those products made by Japanese companies use the horseradish. So little of the fresh wasabi is grown because of the complicated system. Taiwan grows wasabi on hillsides in soil, this results in a white root. This is dried and ground and dyed and sold to Japan but is considered an inferior product. So, look at the product’s label. It will say “horseradish” if it uses amoracia rusticana or Japanese horseradish, wasabi if it uses real wasabia japonica. I hope you understand better the products in the market. Cathy Chadwick gave permission to mention her name.

Wasabi Research
Tumor cell proliferation and cyclooxygenase inhibitory constituents in horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) and Wasabi (Wasabia japonica).
J Agric Food Chem. 2005.  Weil MJ, Zhang Y, Nair MG. Bioactive Natural Products and Phytoceuticals, Department of Horticulture and National Food Safety and Toxicology Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan
Cyclooxygenase and human tumor cell growth inhibitory extracts of horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) and wasabi (Wasabia japonica) rhizomes upon purification yielded active compounds 1-3 from horseradish and 4 and 5 from wasabi rhizomes. Spectroscopic analyses confirmed the identities of these active compounds as plastoquinone-9 (1), 6-O-acyl-beta-d-glucosyl-beta-sitosterol (2), 1,2-dilinolenoyl-3-galactosylglycerol (3), linolenoyloleoyl-3-beta-galactosylglycerol (4), and 1,2-dipalmitoyl-3-beta-galactosylglycerol (5). 3-Acyl-sitosterols, sinigrin, gluconasturtiin, and phosphatidylcholines isolated from horseradish and alpha-tocopherol and ubiquinone-10 from wasabi rhizomes isolated were inactive in our assays. Compounds 1 through 5 selectively inhibited COX-1 enzyme. In a dose response study, compound 3 inhibited the proliferation of colon cancer cells (HCT-116) and lung cancer cells (NCI-H460). Compound 4 inhibited the growth of colon, lung, and stomach cancer cells. This is the first report of the COX-1 enzyme and cancer cell growth inhibitory monogalactosyl diacylglycerides from wasabi and horseradish rhizomes.

Wasabi product promotional email received in June 2008
At a time when awareness of the benefits of cruciferous vegetables continues to grow, BioCell Technology, LLC has introduced i-Sabi, a proprietary wasabia japonica ingredient. Many epidemiological reviews and prospective studies show various beneficial effects attributable to the isothiocyanates. i-Sabi is unique in that it contains a potent amount of isothiocyanates (15,000 ppm), ready for antioxidative activity. These isothiocyanates are exogenous antioxidants that exhibit very powerful detoxification effects. Experimental evidence reveals that a particular isothiocyanate identified as 6-methylsulfinylhexyl isothiocyanate (6-HITC), as found in i-Sabi?, is a very potent inducer of the family of enzymes collectively known as glutathione S-tranferases (GSTs). GSTs are about 45-55 kilodalton in size and comprise a significant percent of cytosolic protein. GSTs are considered a Phase II enzyme, which is the detoxification pathway that is based on conjugation. Specifically, GSTs conjugate glutathione to toxic substances, thus rendering them water-soluble, polar, and ready for excretion via urine or bile. Isothiocyanates have also been found to be extraordinary in promoting healthy cellular replication.
   BioCell Technology, LLC recently completed clinical research on i-Sabi. Studies demonstrate that i-Sabi has a multitude of health-promoting benefits:
1. High antioxidant activity, including the ability to enter into cells to protect from dangerous oxidative damage in vitro.
2. Immunomodulatroy effects.
3. Strongly inhibits COX-2 expression while allowing the more beneficial COX-1 expression in vitro.
4. Activates the important immune cells called natural killer cells, and acts together with Interleukin-2 to activate these natural killer cells even more in vitro.
5. Protects cells from increased cellular division from the activation of a known mitogen in vitro.

Email received 2010
BioCell Technology has issued a white paper on its patent-pending i-Sabi dietary ingredient, which is made from the plant rhizome of Wasabia japonica, more commonly known as wasabi. Wasabi contains a wide spectrum of bioactivities, including antioxidant, liver-protective, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, immunomodulatory, neuritogenic and anti-bacterial properties. Wasabia japonica is a member of the Brassicacea or cruciferous vegetable family. Chemical analysis has shown the presence of a variety of bioactive compounds, such as isothiocyanates, vitamins, essential oils and minerals, but it is 6-HITC (6-methylsulfinylhexyl isothiocyanate) that has been shown to harbor the wide range of potential health benefits. I-Sabi developed by BioCell contains approximately 15,000ppm of 6-HITC, higher than other commercially available wasabi products, and is sold as a freeze-dried powder, which can be formulated into capsules, tablets and soft gels, either as a novel product or as an additional constituent.