Kimchi May Have Helped Lower South Korea’s COVID-19 Fatalities, European Study Suggests

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - NOVEMBER 03: People make kimchi, a traditional pungent vegetable dish, which is donated to the poor in preparation for winter on November 3, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Woohae Cho/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: The headline of this article has been altered to more accurately reflect how findings of the study on fermented cabbage in Europe may correlate with kimchi, a fermented cabbage, in South Korea and other Asian countries in helping to lower COVID-19 fatalities.

Low COVID-19 fatality rates in South Korea may be attributed to kimchi, a recent study has found.

The study: A team of researchers in France, led by Pulmonary Medicine at Montpellier University honorary professor Dr. Jean Bousquet, conducted a study on the dietary preferences of countries with low fatalities from the novel coronavirus. 

  • Reported in Clinical and Translational Allergy, a similar study found that countries where diet mainly consists of fermented cabbage had lower reported deaths from the virus.
  • According to the report, fermented cabbage in dishes helps in reducing levels of ACE2, an enzyme in the lungs that COVID-19 uses to gain access to the bodies of patients. 
  • With a lower amount of ACE2, it becomes more difficult for the virus to enter the body, reported The Sun.

Which countries specifically: In South Korea, where the fermented cabbage dish kimchi is a staple food, 296 people have died out of 13,771 infected with COVID-19, registering a fatality rate of 2.14%. 

  • Meanwhile, Germany’s sauerkraut is also seen as a reason for their low death rate of 4.51% (9,163 deaths out of 202,845 cases as of this writing).
  • In Italy (14.33%), Spain (9.24%) and the United Kingdom (15.36%), and other countries where fermented cabbage is not a regular part of the diet, the death rate is comparatively higher.  
  • Consumption of yogurt or caviar has also helped Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey to have low COVID-19 death rates.
  • “Coronavirus binds to ACE2 that induces oxidative stress, pro-inflammatory and pro-fibrotic effects. Fermented foods have potent antioxidant activity and can protect against severe Covid-19,” Dr Bousquet, the former Chairman of the WHO Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases, noted in the report.

Power of kimchi: In addition to the high antioxidants and vitamin C packed in cabbage, the fermentation process creates probiotics that support the “gut microbiome,” which helps for a better immune response in the body, multiple studies have shown.

  • In a separate study by the University of Leipzig in Germany, it was found that eating fermented food can give a boost to a person’s immune system. 
  • Earlier research has also pointed out the benefits of healthy intestinal microbiome in fine-tuning the immune system and preventing damaging inflammation inside the body.
  • Back in April, the New York Post reported on the surge in sales of both sauerkraut and kimchi amid the pandemic.
  • New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology clinical chief Dr. Robert Brown attributed such rise in sales in the perception that these types of food will protect them against the virus.
  • “When there’s a perception that there’s very little else you can do, you want to do something,” Dr. Brown said.

Not a miracle drug: When COVID-19 started to spread globally in January, South Korea’s Health Ministry released a statement warning that kimchi should not be seen as a “wonder drug” against the virus.

  • In a press release, the ministry cautioned that the Korean staple food provides no protection against the virus, noting that the best protection is frequent hand washing.

Feature Image via Getty

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