Like other fermented food like yogurt and sauerkraut, kimchi is regarded as one of the healthy foods but experts have found a positive link of eating kimchi and gastric cancer.
In recent years, kimchi has been enjoying a boost in popularity as more and more people are exposed to Korean culture and food.
Apart from it being loaded with vitamin A, B, and C, the reddish fermented cabbage also provides a good amount of healthy bacteria, ‘lactobacilli’ which helps with digestion and prevent yeast infection.
However, as stomach cancer rates are high in certain parts of Asia especially South Korea and Japan, experts suggest that there is a positive link between high intake of pickled food and stomach cancer.
Kimchi and its fermented counterparts like miso and pickled fish contain N-nitroso compounds, which are likely carcinogens.
A study shows that people who include kimchi and soybean paste in their diet had increased risk of stomach cancer compared to people who consume non-fermented food.
In another study, they found that there was a 50 percent higher risk of stomach cancer when participants consume pickled vegetables or foods.
Kimchi is generally healthy food and provides essential amino acids and minerals. According to experts, it contains healthy flavonoids which are known to slow down the growth of cancer cells. However, it is the salt and preservatives used in kimchi and other fermented foods that are carcinogenic and increase the risk of stomach cancer.
This is because high salt intake strips the stomach lining which makes it more susceptible to inflammation and atrophy. When this happens, bacteria called H. pylori which is responsible for stomach cancer can easily infect the damaged walls of the stomach.
In a study of more than 2 million people done by the National Cancer Center Research Institute, they found that salty diet can increase the risk of stomach cancer by 10 percent.
According to Jeongseon Kim who led the research, he found there was a “weak but positive” association between salt intake and risk of stomach cancer.
Dr. Al B. Benson III, a gastric cancer specialist from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago explained how salt is consumed may play the biggest role.
He cited a Japanese study which discovered that sodium in the form of table salt was linked to heart disease but not cancer while pickled or salted foods were linked to cancer but not cardiovascular disease.
“The implication is that in areas where salt is used as a way to preserve foods, such as pickling, there is a higher risk,” Dr. Benson said in an interview with Reuters.
Even though stomach cancer rates are higher in South Korea, China and Japan, kimchi is not the only risk factor of the disease. Rather, it is the foods that are high in sodium that may increase the risk of stomach cancer apart from other factors like genetics, smoking and alcohol consumption.
“If you now live in the United States, although are originally from an area of the world with high gastric cancer rates, then you should look at your current diet and consider a reduction of salted foods, ” Dr. Benson concluded.