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Fermented Koji & Parabens - The Detox Connection

September 25, 2017
My love of fermented foods and the topic of xenoestrogens has led me to develop my paraben/koji detox hypothesis. Koji is a fermented rice that's been cultured with Aspergillus oryzae or 'koji fungus'. According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the koji fungus has been safely used in the food industry for several hundred years. If you're a fan of Asian food, you've probably consumed this fungus and not even known it. This infamous fungus is what makes shoyu (soy sauce), miso (soybean paste), and saké (rice wine) so delicious and tasty! 
Parabens (4-hydroxybenzoic acid esters) are preservatives and are known to have estrogen activity (EA) in your body through their xenoestrogen effect. Parabens are linked to breast cancer, reduced sperm quality, and both male and female infertility. You've likely been exposed to parabens because they're widely used in cosmetic products which are easily absorbed through your skin, in drugs for infants and adults, as well as processed foods. There are 6 main parabens which begin with the prefixes methyl, butyl, propyl, ethyl, heptyl, benzyl.
Connecting the Dots
My hypothesized connection between parabens and koji is simply that I believe "Specific enzymes found in koji fungus can break down parabens so they can be safely detoxified from the body." How did I come up with this hypothesis? As a child I loved coloring books that contained 'connect the dot' puzzles. I would spend hours buried in them. As an adult I love researching peer reviewed studies and connecting the dots between studies to see how they relate and what picture they reveal in the end! 
Coming back to the science of it all. Parabens are chemical cousins of 3-phenoxybenzoic acid. Parabens are esters of benzoic acid, thus the name 'para + ben' (para = along side, ben = benzoic acid). 3-phenoxybenzoic acid belongs to the family of benzoic acid and its derivatives because it is a compound that contains a carboxylic acid substituent attached to a benzene ring. The long and short, is that parabens and 3-phenoxybenzoic acid are related chemicals and are likely to be detoxified through similar mechanisms.
A 2016 study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology discovered that the amazing fungus Aspergillus oryzae (koji fungus) found in soya sauce can degrade (break down/detox) 3-phenoxybenzoic acid. In my opinion, for simplicity sake the study should have read "Koji fungus found in soya sauce detoxifies chemicals related to parabens." In reality the study states that "A novel filamentous fungus M-4 strain was isolated from soy sauce koji and identified as Aspergillus oryzae." The research goes on to reveal that Aspergillus oryzae can "Degrade 80.62% of 3-phenoxybenzoic acid in 5 days... without toxic effects." A related paper in the Journal of PLoS One found similar results.
It's also interesting to note that laccase enzymes have been shown to remove the estrogenic activity of several parabens and Aspergillus oryzae (koji fungus) is known to produce laccase enzymes. The end picture my dot connecting created for me was; if you consume foods fermented by the koji fungus you'll be providing your body with the needed enzymes required to hydrolyze (break down/detox) parabens.
Whether you believe my hypothesis is true or not, fermented foods are always a healthy choice. In fact a 2016 study reports that Japanese traditional dietary fungus koji Aspergillus oryzae might be the missing connection between Japanese cuisine and longevity.
More Deliciousness
So what other foods are fermented with this wonderful ancient fungus? Studies show that barley koji has higher enzyme activity than rice koji. The beverage koji amazake (sweet rice drink) naturally contains acetylcholine, a well-known beneficial neurotransmitter. Kochujang, a traditional fermented red pepper paste, is renowned for its cholesterol lowering effects.
Connecting all the dots really just leads back to the realization that the ancients of long ago had it all figured out. Thanks again grandma!
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by Bonnie Penner

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