While most Americans consider diarrhea to be an occasional discomfort associated with the stomach flu, it’s a widespread disease in developing countries. Nearly five of every 1,000 preschoolers in these countries die from diarrhea, and it’s the second most common cause of infant deaths worldwide.
Diarrhea kills through dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Because drugs used to treat diarrhea have potentially serious side effects and can impair the central nervous system, there has been a search for natural compounds for treatment of this disease.
One food that has been used with success is tempeh, a fermented soybean product that is native to Indonesia. Extracts from tempeh may prevent enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), the pathogen most often associated with diarrhea in children, from adhering to intestinal cells. While it’s the fermentation process that has been thought to confer these benefits, new research from the Netherlands has found that nonfermented soyfoods may be beneficial, too.
Dr. Mo and colleagues from Wageningen University in the Netherlands measured the ability of extracts of tempeh and tofu to prevent the adhesion of ETEC to intestinal cells. They found that for both raw and cooked tempeh and tofu, the more they added, the less the ETEC adhered to the intestinal cells. Next, they put tofu and tempeh through a process that mimicked digestion to see whether the harsh pH of the stomach along with pancreatic enzymes would impact the protective properties of these foods. Interestingly, simulated digestion appeared to markedly enhance the anti-adhesive properties of both tempeh and tofu. As a result, the researchers suggested that both tempeh and tofu could be protective against diarrhea.
Mo et al., Lett Appl Microbiol. 2011.