One of the oldest antivax tropes is that vaccines some how “poison” you with “toxins,” thereby causing a whole host of health problems that antivaxxers blame on vaccines but whose causation is not supported by science. Indeed, when I first made a splash (sort of) debunking antivax misinformation in 2005, I was addressing Robert F. Kennedy Jr.‘s conspiracy theory that the mercury in the thimerosal preservative used in a number of routine childhood vaccines up until around 2001 or so was the cause of an “epidemic” of autism. Around that same time, chelation therapy was a major topic of this blog, because “autism biomed” quacks used it to chelate the mercury from vaccines that they blamed for autism; it was a long-failed hypothesis, but that didn’t stop the quacks. Indeed, “detoxification” of “toxins” (from vaccines) was and remains a key pillar of “autism biomed” quackery, regardless of whether the vaccines contained thimerosal or not. (To these quacks, they’re all equally nasty.) So it was with some interest that I saw bubbling up from antivax social media about a new way of “detoxing” the spike protein from COVID-19 vaccines to which antivaxxers attribute all the horrible things they blame on these vaccines. The method? Using nattokinase to digest the spike protein that supposedly hangs around after vaccination against COVID-19 to do all sorts of nefarious things.
I noticed nattokinase showing up on antivax Substacks, such as that of Dr. Paul “we want them infected” Alexander, in a post with one of his frantic long-winded titles SPIKE Protein Detoxifier: COVID gene injection SPIKE Recovery may help manage LONG COVID, the amount of spike protein in your body & inhibit effects & blood vessel blockage, supporting T-cell activity. Witness how this quack portrays the “need” for a “detoxifier” if you’ve had a COVID-19 vaccine:
Spike protein (due to the COVID vaccine or virus) is becoming increasingly concerning and people are begging for solutions. They are scared and in many instances distraught as to the spike circulating within them. As a result, a spike detoxifier is needed. This detoxifier can potentially help manage the amount of spike protein in your body (especially spike induced by the Pfizer and Moderna gene platform).
Seeing a claim like this leads me to point out some things. First, the amount of spike protein that gets into the bloodstream as a result of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna is infinitesimally small, definitely smaller than the amount of spike protein one gets from an—oh, you know—actually infection with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Second—and I know I’m repeating myself from above, but bear with me—antivaxxers have been recommending “detoxification” to treat “vaccine injury” or “vaccine toxicity” since long before I ever first took notice of the antivaccine movement which was well over two decades ago. Nattokinase, as you will see, is just the latest wrinkle in this old narrative.
Unsurprisingly, instead of blaming the virus for long COVID, Alexander blames—you guessed it!—the vaccine:
This is a particularly important consideration given the massive reporting of symptoms post recovery from virus infection or taking the COVID mRNA-DNA gene injection (Pfizer and Moderna). I am referring to what is called ‘LONG-COVID’ and you may have heard this term or similar. The advancing ‘maturing’ science is focusing on clarifying this condition yet it is clear just by looking around us in our own personal daily lives (ourselves, our family members, our friends, or our work colleagues as well as just strangers who shared their struggles), that this COVID gene injection or the virus leaves many with symptoms and often debilitating crippling one. This is no laughing matter and some (many) people are very damaged by the gene injection vaccine (as well as the virus).
How nice and “even-handed” of him to acknowledge that the virus might actually cause long COVID. Of course, he frames it by saying “some (many) people” were damaged by the “gene injection” vaccine “as well as the virus.” His readers know what he really means, namely that he’s claiming that the vaccine is the primary cause of what is being labeled “long COVID.” Lest you fail to get that message, he rapidly pivots to claim:
The reality is that the COVID gene injections (so called vaccines) induces the very toxic dangerous part of the COVID virus that causes severe and often fatal disease sequelae, this being the spike protein, as part of the immune response. The spike protein and especially the S1 sub-unit of the spike protein is highly pathological and is more than likely involved in the often crippling post-vaccination syndrome e.g. LONG COVID. The spike protein is devastatingly toxic (references here, here, here).
I can’t help but note that the first article uses a mouse model to study acute lung injury from COVID-19 involving artificially high doses of spike protein. The second article is by Stephanie Seneff, a naturopath, and Peter McCullough. (‘Nuff said.) The third article is about the incidence of acute allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccines, and I note that pretty much all vaccines cause allergic reactions in a small percentage of people, making COVID vaccines nothing unique on that score. None of these articles, other than the mouse model, demonstrates that the spike protein is a “toxin” that causes long COVID, and even the mouse model is of limited utility in that the dose used (400 µg/kg) is huge compared to anything a vaccine could cause and arguably even more than infection can cause. Also, the recombinant spike protein was administered not intramuscularly or intravenously, but intratracheal, meaning that the investigators squirted saline containing it into the tracheas of the mice. Anyway, cherry picking and misrepresenting studies is how dishonest antivaxxers roll.
Let’s get to the “detox” though! Basically Alexander is pushing a “detox” formulation, a “spike detoxifier,” from another quack whom I had never heard of before, Dr. Jen VanDeWater, who’s a pharmacist selling something called Dr. Jen VanDeWater’s Spike Recovery Formula, which is billed as the “gold standard” in combatting “shedding” and fending off the “deadly spike protein”:
Apparently, this concoction contains selenium (supposedly to “combat inflammation”), nattokinase (to dissolve clots), dandelion root (to “support better liver function,” whatever that means), and black cumin seeds (to help “celluar repair”—sorry, but if you leave a typo/spelling error in your video selling quackery I am going to make fun of it). Apparently there is also green tea extract—because why not?—and Irish sea moss—again, because why not?—to “scavenge free radicals” and “rid the body of heavy metal residue,” respectively. Of course, I find it funny how antivaccine quacks are trying to find a way to link their old favorite “toxins,” namely “heavy metals,” to COVID-19 vaccine injury even though these vaccines do not contain appreciable heavy metals, but that never stopped quacks before.
What interested me was the nattokinase, though, as the other supplements are long-standing nostrums beloved of alternative medicine practitioners for a very long time. It’s not particularly interesting to me to seem them repurposed as COVID quackery. However, before I move on to nattokinase, I can’t help but note that, according to VanDeWater, even if you didn’t get vaccinated you still need her nostrums to keep you and your family safe. Against, what if you weren’t vaccinated? I’m not sure, but here you go:
According to Alexander:
Recent literature has shown nattokinase to be effective in degrading the spike protein associated with COVID-19 . It has long been known to reduce the risk of clot formation and improve circulation .
Before I ask what nattokinase is even supposed to do, the first thing I always wonder is how a protein—an enzyme—can work when taken orally. In general, proteins are rapidly broken down in the stomach and proximal small intestine by a number of very efficient enzymes that chew up the peptide chain. It is true that there are a few exceptions, but they tend to be digestive enzymes, which can survive in the harsh chemical environment of the stomach and enzymatic environment of the small intestine. Think pancreatic enzymes, whose function can indeed be replaced by oral supplementation because these enzymes are among the enzymes that work in digestion. Nattokinase does not appear to be one of these enzymes. So what is it?
It turns out that nattokinase is an enzyme used to ferment soy bean products that have long been a dietary staple in Japan. It also turns out that it’s a popular supplement, and if you do a Google search for just “nattokinase” a lot of the results will be supplement sellers promoting it for its various claimed health benefits. In brief, nattokinase is extracelluar enzyme secreted by the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, used to ferment boiled or steamed soybeans resulting in a preparation called nattō. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering website notes:
Nattokinase is also available as a supplement and is most known for its effects on prevention and treatment of clots and to improve blood circulation.
Nattokinase has been promoted as an alternative anticancer treatment based on the notion that it can help dissolve the fibrin coating around a tumor, and increase oxygen supply in the blood to inhibit cancer cell growth. However, these mechanisms have not been proven in humans.
Nattokinase is also purported to treat Alzheimer’s disease and hypertension.
So right away you can see why nattokinase might be attractive to COVID antivax quacks, given that one of the main false claims about these vaccines is that they are causing people to “die suddenly” of clotting disorders leading to strokes and myocardial infarctions (heart attacks). (They aren’t.) It’s also not as though nattokinase doesn’t have activities in vitro (test tube and cell culture) that do have relevance to clotting:
In vitro studies show that nattokinase decreases clot formation by cleaving and inactivating the plasminogen activator inhibitor (PAI) via proteolysis at P1-P1’ peptide bond. PAI is a key inhibitor of tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) that converts plasminogen to plasmin. PAI inactivation allows for greater tPA activity and increased lysis of clots (10) (11). In the absence of PAI, nattokinase affects direct proteolysis of fibrin; however, this effect is less than the protelysis achieved by the PAI-mediated pathway (2). The fibrinolytic activity of nattokinase is estimated to be four-fold that of plasmin (12).
The question, of course, is whether the in vitro activities of nattokinase translate into anything therapeutic in humans. The answer is: We don’t know, but it strikes me as highly improbable. One WebMD perusal of the evidence is full of “maybes” and “possibly,” in which it’s claimed that nattokinase “might” increase your risk of bleeding, decrease your blood pressure, etc., but notes that there’s basically little to no clinical evidence to support these uses.
Which brings us to the main problem. Nattokinase is an enzyme. It should be expected to be digested when taken orally; it would not be expected to get into the bloodstream where it might actually be able to exhibit its ability to break down clots that it exhibits in a test tube. Alexander cites a review article that claims otherwise but immediately got my skeptical antennae twitching with claims such as:
Nattokinase is considered to be a safe, powerful, low cost, and all-natural supplement for the treatment of heart and cardiovascular disease [5,6,7]. Animal [3,4,8] and human trials [9,10,11] have demonstrated that NK provides support to the circulatory system by thinning the blood and dissolving blood clots.
That first sentence is…something. But what about the cited articles? There are animal studies, but I zeroed in on the human studies. There were a couple of randomized studies, such as this one, but what impressed me about them was that none of them ever actually seemed to show that nattokinase actually got into the bloodstream by measuring its concentration in the blood. On the other hand, it does appear from this pharmacokinetic study that nattokinase can get into the bloodstream, but interestingly the study did not say that it detected bioactive nattokinase. Given that it used an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to detect nattokinase in the blood, it is entirely possible that the antibody in the assay detected consisted of large fragments of degraded nattokinase or nattokinase that had been denatured (the protein unfolded) and was therefore inactive, leading the authors to note that “looking for intact enzyme and bioactive nattokinase peptides should be a consideration for future studies investigating the pharmacokinetic profile of nattokinase.” No kidding, as I noticed that a lot of the human studies of nattokinase (for example, this one) didn’t measure it in the blood even by ELISA. This all left me wondering whether it was actually nattokinase or something else in the concoction that might be affecting what was observed.
Of course, I couldn’t resist doing my own PubMed search on nattokinase to see what sorts of studies had been done more recently on nattokinase. I couldn’t help but immediately find this 2021 double-blind randomized controlled clinical trial that found zero effect of nattokinase versus placebo on the progression of atherosclerotic disease, which is one of the indications claimed for this enzyme. My entire take on nattokinase with respect to clotting and atherosclerosis is that it’s possible that maybe some intact enzyme survives digestion in the gut to be absorbed into the bloodstream to do something therapeutic, but that the evidence that it actually does anything clinically relevant in cardiovascular disease when administered orally is quite weak.
Of course, it didn’t take me long to find that someone tested whether nattokinase can degrade spike protein, because of course someone did. It is, unsurprisingly, an in vitro study in which cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 and lysates from those cells were exposed to different doses of nattokinase and this was observed:
When cell lysates transfected with S protein were incubated with nattokinase, the S protein was degraded in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Immunofluorescence analysis showed that S protein on the cell surface was degraded when nattokinase was added to the culture medium. Thus, our findings suggest that nattokinase exhibits potential for the inhibition of SARS-CoV-2 infection via S protein degradation.
They also appear to have done some of the appropriate controls, such as heating nattokinase to inactivate it or treating it with a protease inhibitor to inhibit its ability to cleave protein strands and observing that such treatments eliminated the ability of nattokinase to cause the degradation of spike protein. A similar study reported that nattokinase could inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infection in cell culture. Of note, both studies were examining whether nattokinase could prevent infection of cells by SARS-CoV-2 not whether the enzyme could degrade spike protein from the vaccine. Overall, it’s a somewhat interesting finding that might or might not lead to the use of nattokinase to treat or alleviate COVID-19 infection. My prediction is that it probably won’t, simply because the vast majority of cell culture results don’t translate to a treatment, but I’ll concede that it’s interesting nonetheless.
Unsurprisingly, Dr. Peter McCullough is all over this study as evidence for, well:
Based on these findings, nattokinase and similar products such as serrapeptase should undergo well-funded, accelerated preclinical and clinical development programs. The issue at hand is the urgency of time, similar to that with SARS-CoV-2 infection and empiric early therapy. It will take up to 20 years to have a fully developed pharmaceutical profile to characterize the safety and efficacy of nattokinase in the treatment of vaccine injury and post-COVID syndromes. Large number of people are sick now and many believe empiric treatment is justified given sufficiently low risk of side effects and potentially high reward. My recommendation is to discuss this with your doctor or seek a specialist in holistic or naturopathic medicine who is experienced with the safety profile of nattokinase in a range of applications.
Notice how McCullough assumes that this will be used for “vaccine injury,” even though the intent of the researchers who published these papers was to explore whether nattokinase can inhibit the infection of human cells by SARS-CoV-2.
Also, unsurprisingly, the quacks have responded. For example, C0lleen Huber, ND (for “not a doctor”), a “naturopathic oncologist” about whom I’ve written a few times before and who has predictably become a COVID-19 quack, chimed in after McCullough’s post:
I have asked my covid-vaccinated patients to take nattokinase 2000 units per day, while running these labs every 3 months: D-dimer, CBC/platelets, fibrinogen, PT/INR. Naturopathic physicians have recommended nattokinase and similar for decades for our cardiovascular patients, and I have never known it to cause new problems. It seems to be generally well-tolerated.
That’s nice. There appears to be nothing in her comment about evidence that it actually works, although she does—surprise! surprise!—prefer ivermectin for COVID:
I would like to be able to give a definitive answer. There are still varying estimates as to how long spike proteins are being generated. I have to say though that nattokinase is not my favorite for blocking or neutralizing effects of spike proteins. Rather, I think that is best done by ivermectin. I wrote about those specific mechanisms here: https://colleenhuber.substack.com/p/ivermectin-is-safe-and-effective
The bottom line is simple. Nattokinase is known to dissolve clots in cell culture. It also appears to dissolve spike protein in cell culture, but, then, it’s a kinase, and dissolving proteins is what kinases do, and this is a subtilisin family serine protease. (Seriously, it also hydrolyzes (breaks down) collagen, a structural protein.) The evidence is weak that it has clinical utility in cardiovascular disease, nonexistent, given that existing evidence is only in vitro, that it combats COVID-19, and fantastical that it somehow combats “COVID-19 vaccine injury” given that the “injuries” claimed by antivaxxers like Alexander and McCullough are basically either not a thing or completely exaggerated.
Quacks gonna quack, though, and McCullough is definitely a quack in my estimation. So is Colleen Huber. No wonder they’re jumping on the nattokinase bandwagon for “COVID-19 vaccine injury” and long COVID.