Because of my love for kimchi, a few people sent me a link to the article The WHO Says Cellphones and Pickles May Cause Cancer. I was aware of some of the claims, but nothing I’ve read so far is shows a definitive link. The 2 types of cancer discussed in the article are stomach and esophageal.
This article and others speculate that the high levels of salt in kimchi and other fermented items can increase your risk for stomach cancer. Standard dietary recommendations are to keep your daily sodium intake under 2,400 milligrams. This works out to 1 level teaspoon.
Since I started making kimchi, I’ve researched many other recipes. I’ve checked out every book in the Seattle library system with a kimchi recipe. They all have one thing in common. They use WAY TOO MUCH salt. It is simply not needed to start a successful fermentation. The more I experiment with ferments, the less salt I use.
Other ideas to further reduce the salt levels in kimchi:
- After rubbing the salt into the cabbage, let it sit for a hour or so and then gently rinse.
- Use a starter. Take a tablespoon of your last batch of kimchi and add it to the new mix. That starter kimchi is already loaded with probiotics. The healthy bacteria already won their battle. This is like bringing your big brother to a school yard fight.
You could also reduce your sodium levels outside your fermented dishes. You know things like processed food, canned veggies and bread. Since I don’t eat those foods, I figure I have more sodium headroom.
You can also reduce your risk to stomach cancer by not smoking and getting good amounts of Vitamin A and C. Beef liver is loaded with Vitamin A and has a decent amount of Vitamin C too. Organ meats to the rescue once again.
How can fermented foods lead to esophageal cancer? From the Slate article.
Researchers now think the culprit is the fungi responsible for the fermentation process. As part of their natural life cycle, the microorganisms release a variety of possible carcinogens.
I’m all for digging into the science when I think I’ll have fighting chance of understanding, but researching this is beyond my hobbyist skill level. My guess is Paul from Perfect Health Diet will publish something in the near future. If and when he does, I’ll link to his post. All I can do is review the other known risk factors.
According to the Wikipedia page on esophageal cancer, tobacco and alcohol use account for 90% of all esophageal squamous cell carcinoma cases. Moderate coffee drinkers reduce their risk. Works for me! The study in the British Journal of Cancer states that “more studies are warranted“.
For the most part, this article does not concern me. However, I’d be a fool to dismiss all the concerns raised until we know more. In the absence of that information, this is my plan going forward.
- Continue making kimchi using low salt levels. Use high quality ingredients.
- Keep my other salt intake low.
- Take a day off from kimchi every week and a week off every year. In the event that kimchi represents some form of a chronic stressor (albeit very mild), scheduled abstinence should benefit the body. I can especially see reduced intake of fermented foods during the warmer months when more fresh vegetable options are available.
- Continue Intermittent Fasting. See Intermittent Fasting – Protection From Cancer.
I look forward to reading what the smarter scientific minds think about the cancer risks from fermentation.