Eating well-fermented kimchi may protect people from the potentially fatal bird flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), South Korean researchers said Monday, according to Yonhap News.
A joint team of scientists from the Korea Food Research Institute (KFRI) and local universities said laboratory tests conducted since 2006 on 115 chickens and 42 mice showed that the spicy, fermented dish prevents infections in animals.
Kimchi is a side dish eaten with almost all traditional Korean meals, and it is made from cabbage, radishes, cucumber, garlic and red chili peppers.
"The exact reason why animals that ate high concentrations of kimchi-based feed were not affected by bird flu and SARS needs to be examined in the future, although there is a clear correlation between the food and the ability to withstand the virus," said Kim Young-jin, a KFRI senior researcher who led the tests.
The research started because no Korean has died from the bird flu or SARs, despite the the fact that many Koreans have visited countries hard-hit by both diseases.
"Initially there was speculation that the high level of vitamin C in kimchi may be the cause of the natural resistance, but this has been discarded in favor of benefits caused by the fermentation process of the dish," the expert said.
Kim said well-fermented kimchi with pH levels of 4.0-4.2 had the best results in tests, adding that steady consumption of the food over a long period of time boosted resistance to infection.
Tests and dissections conducted on chickens showed most birds that ate kimchi extract showed no H1N1 bird flu or SARs viruses in their respiratory systems, while no mice that ate a special feed made from kimchi died in the experiment. The fatality rate for animals that were given regular feed, however, reached 20 percent.
Both bird flu and SARs are similar to the common flu. SARs is passed from person-to-person, while bird flu is usually passed from sick birds to humans.
Experts, meanwhile, said that kimchi may help raise resistance to the current type-A H1N1 influenza virus strain that has infected 8,500 people in 39 countries and claimed over 70 lives, mainly in Mexico.
The latest outbreak is caused by the combination of swine, bird and common human influenza viruses.
South Korea confirmed three cases of the type-A flu, with all three being released from quarantine after making speedy recoveries.