HARAI: Where East Meets West
A question was recently asked regarding the efficacy of HARAI for improving the digestive health of Westerners. It was noted that the fermented probiotic developed in Japan by Sadanori Ito might be better suited to the types of chronic digestive conditions prevalent in the Asian hemisphere. Lifestyles and diet do indeed differ significantly between the Orient and the West, so this topic deserves a closer look.
A paper published in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology, in 2018, focused on how lifestyles in the East and West might produce different incidences of functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs).¹ FGIDs are chronic digestive disorders, sometimes inherited conditions, sometimes related to auto-immune issues, rather than acute illnesses caused by contagions, etc. Typical examples would be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), dyspepsia, chronic gastritis, even recurring constipation.
Yet far from producing conclusive results, the study had difficulty from the outset in obtaining useful statistics. For instance, when looking at irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it was found that Asians diagnosed with this disorder were indicating a different set of symptoms than westerners; while a high percentage of westerners with IBS complained of “abdominal pain” and “bloating,” Asians rarely mentioned abdominal pain, but frequently cited “bloating” and “discomfort associated with defecation.”
This issue - different criteria used to diagnose common digestive disorders - repeatedly stymied the researchers. A further example, the H. Pylori bacteria, which is found in many Asian subjects suffering from gastritis, might or might not be as common in cases amongst Westerners; unfortunately, evidence has not yet been compiled on the prevalence of H. Pylori in U.S. cases of this common illness.
What about constipation? Here several different factors were identified as potential causes of lower constipation rates among Asians. It was theorized that high-fiber diets (which make for heavier bowel movements) amongst Asians partly accounted for lower constipation rates. But the same might also be attributed to the squatting position use by many Asians when evacuating the bowels. It was noted that the average time spent in the act of defecation was much shorter amongst certain Asian groups (0.9 minutes) than in Western subjects (2.1 minutes.)
And then there were the observed differences in how and when Asians and Westerners seek medical advice. With vastly different healthcare systems, and different perceptions of illness, it becomes virtually impossible to compare one group with another. Where medical treatment is free, as it is in many Asian countries, people are more likely to seek an examination at the onset of symptoms. Where medical costs are higher, as in the U.S., doctor visits for abdominal discomfort skew lower.
So while it is undeniable that diet and lifestyles differ between East and West, the paucity of information on various relevant factors – such as differences in gut microbial make-up between different groups – means we are still far from predicting how each might respond to organic supplements. What is known is that nearly all cultures, Asian and Western alike, do benefit from the probiotic effects of fermented foods, and from the types of dietary fiber found in fruits and vegetables. Therefore, maintaining these foods in the diet – and supplementing them with an all plant-based, fermented supplement like HARAI - is surely one of the best ways to keep the digestive system functioning smoothly, whether your go-to lunch is a burger or a bowl of noodles.