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December 05, 2023

Consuming wasabi leads to 'significant' improvements in memory, study finds

The traditional Japanese condiment has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. But many sushi restaurants don't actually serve genuine wasabi

Senior Health Memory
Wasabi memory benefits Cath Smith/Unsplash

Wasabi may significantly enhance memory in older adults, according to a new study. But many sushi restaurants do not serve genuine wasabi because the traditional Japanese condiment is expensive due to its difficulty to produce.

Wasabi may add more than a spicy kick to sushi rolls. New research suggests it also can help boost some cognitive functions.

The traditional Japanese condiment was found to enhance short-term and long-term memory in older adults in a study conducted by researchers from Tohoku University in Japan. Wasabi's main bioactive compound, 6-MSITC, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions.

In the study, 72 healthy adults, ages 60 to 80, were randomly assigned to either take nightly 6-MSITC supplements or a placebo for 12 weeks. Those who received the 6-MSITC supplements saw "significant" boosts in their cognitive functions based on assessments of language skills, concentrations and their abilities to carry out simple tasks. Those assessments were taken before and after they took the supplements.

Though previous research has investigated the effects of 6-MSITC on cognitive functions, this study was the first to demonstrate that it has a benefit on memory functioning in healthy, older adults. The study did not find significant improvements in other cognitive functions, such as processing speed or attention.

"We knew from earlier animal studies that wasabi conferred health benefits," Rui Nouchi, the study's lead researcher, told CBS News. "But what really surprised us was the dramatic change. The improvement was really substantial."

A small dab of genuine wasabi, or 0.8 milligrams of 6-MSITC, offers the same benefits as the capsule supplements used in the Tohoku University study.

However, the green paste served in many sushi bars may not actually contain wasabi at all. A white horseradish that has been died green is commonly substituted because wasabi – a type of horseradish that grows naturally in rocky river beds in Japan – is notoriously difficult to produce.

Experts have referred to wasabi as the "most difficult plant in the world to grow commercially." It takes about two years to reach maturity and requires very specific conditions to grow. Wasabi can cost more per pound than some of the fish in sushi that it is served with, according to CBS.

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