Food by VICE

Jellyfish Stings Might Make You Allergic to Natto

Being outdoors can expose you to critters that sting—and believe it or not, a sting by the wrong varmint might mean that you can no longer eat the foods you love. Natto lovers, stay out of the ocean.

by Alex Swerdloff
May 27 2015, 6:30pm

Photo via Flickr user bokchoi-snowpea

A recent study with Yokohama City University Hospital will leave you shouting "Oh, natt-no you didn't!" That is, if you are one of the few bad-pun-loving gaijin who happen to have actually ever eaten the slimy foodstuff that is natto.

Being outdoors—surfing, hiking, generally ambling about—can expose you to critters that sting. And, believe it or not, a sting by the wrong varmint might mean that you can no longer eat the foods you love—including the Japanese delicacy known as natto.

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Let's back up for a sec: Last year we told you the sad story of one lad who, thanks to a tick bite, developed a nasty allergy to meat. That tick made him evacuate his bowels pretty much every time a minuscule amount of meat touched his poor tongue.

Studies have revealed that a bite from a particularly virulent type of tick—the lone star tick, which is found throughout much of the United States—can make you a vegetarian for life. And not because you've suddenly became an advocate for animal ethics.

Lone star ticks produce a sugar called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose or "alpha-gal," which has caused some people to become allergic to meat.

No more steak, lamb, pork, bacon. I'm pretty sure that this sort of forced meat renunciation is practiced as a form of torture in some ex-Soviet bloc states.

Repeated tick bites make it all worse, and the problem may be life-threatening.

But ticks are not the only problem for food-lovers in the wild. If you are a Japanese food fan, today's news might seriously screw up your dating profile, should you have chosen to expound endlessly on your love of the ocean and walks on the beach.

As reported by RocketNews24, associate professor Dr. Naoko Inomato of Yokohama City University has recently found that repeated stings by jellyfish can cause an allergy to natto.

If you don't know natto, it's a cluster of Japanese soybeans that have been fermented with hay or grass bacillus. It is a slimy, smelly breakfast food that is beloved by many and reviled by pretty much everyone else. While some say the stuff smells similar to pungent cheese, I for one would point out that natto's similarity to cat food doesn't end simply at appearance. Imagine a stringy, gluey substance connecting a bunch of beans.

Despite that, a lot of people really, really love it. And those people are off the surfboard for life now.

Dr. Inomata studied 18 patients with natto allergy, which, admittedly, is a pretty rare allergy. In fact, although soy is a common allergy trigger, fermented soy is not.

As it turned out in Dr. Inomata's study, 12 natto-allergy sufferers were surfers, two were scuba divers, and one was a professional diver. When she found out that over 80 percent of her study group of allergic patients spent a lot of time in the ocean, the doctor realized that the inciting incident may have been sea-related.

The substance that gives natto its delightful (to some) sticky characteristic is polyglutamic acid. This particular substance is also found in jellyfish. According to the study, repeated stings might cause the victim to later become allergic to ingesting polyglutamic acid in natto. Both the natto case and the tick situation stem from the body creating antibodies to fight a foreign element that has previously been introduced into their system.

Luckily, however, these cases are rare. "I am unaware of any other example like the lone star tick bite sensitizing to red meat," Dr. Hugh Sampson, director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, told MUNCHIES by email.

Regardless, the wilderness is a cold, cruel mistress with countless, ever-changing pitfalls.

Stay inside. And eat what you want.