Good news, stir-fry fanatics! It turns out a flavor enhancer found in soy sauce has remarkably similar characteristics to an antiviral used to treat HIV/AIDs.
The discovery was originally made all the way back in 2001, but a recent study by the University of Missouri which confirmed it puts this surprising contender for HIV/AIDs research.
The flavor enhancer is called EFdA (4′-ethynyl-2-fluoro-2′-deoxyadenosine). A Japanese soy sauce company, Yamasa (which has been making the good stuff since 1645), found that EFdA not only resembled an antiviral called tenofovir, but it worked better at eliminating the virus from blood samples than tenofovir, which is found in PrEPs like Truvada. But tenofovir has a high rate of resistance, meaning people who take it quickly become immune to its benefits. EFdA is thought to be an alternative that can help those who have developed this resistance to tenofovir.
A test was performed on monkeys who were suffering from an advanced form of simian HIV. These monkeys were scheduled to be euthanized, but after exposure to EFdA, they were so active and healthy, researchers were astonished. The resistance many patients develop to tenofovir, “wasn’t even a factor.”
In fact, EFdA is over 70 times less resistant than previous drugs because it breaks down in the body too quickly. For those living with HIV/AIDs, the struggle has for many years been going back and forth between different medicines– there’s no way to combat resistances and there’s no way to tell how quickly someone will become resistant to a medication. These medicines are vital in keeping an infected person’s viral load down, which not only keeps them from infecting others, but also prevents them from dealing with symptoms that can ultimately lead to death.
Yamasa has an interesting history of backing advances in modern medicine and general awesomeness. The seventh head of the company, Goryo Hamaguchi, was a big proponent of modern medicine all the way back in the 1800s. When Commodore Perry came to Japan, Goryo lobbied for the country to open up to the rest of the world. His reasoning? It wasn’t that he wanted better soy sauce sales– he wanted to learn more about western medicine so that he could help his countrymen– particularly when fighting cholera and smallpox.
A smallpox vaccination center that he set up back then persists today as Tokyo University’s School of Medicine. His company also persists today combating the dangers of our time– HIV/AIDs. How cool is that?
The company has been employing food scientists since 1988 and this isn’t their first big discovery. They are one of the leading groups in studying immunological responses to foods– allergies, for example.
Don’t go chugging down soy sauce just yet. This drug isn’t yet being sold on the market, but if the tests go well, we can hopefully start seeing it very soon. For now, there are only two solid methods for preventing HIV/AIDs: barrier methods like condoms (check out our World’s Best Sampler for tons of options!) and PRePs like Truvada, or this intravaginal ring which secretes both birth control and tenofovir.