AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Fermented and Fabulous: The Key to Gut Health

Fermented foods are truly underestimated. Yes, I’m talking kombucha, kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc. You might be thinking, how much can consuming a bitter tasting food really do for me? The truth is, a lot. Fermented foods may just be the answer to combating the rise in chronic inflammatory diseases. This is due to the fact that a diet with an abundance of fermented foods enhances gut microbe diversity. Gut microbiota, the human body’s largest population of microorganisms set in the intestine, are essential to the multifaceted nature of human health because they have impacts on immune, metabolic, and neurobehavioral traits.

Improving Human Intestinal Health

 In a trial run by Stanford School of Medicine, 36 healthy adults were assigned to a 10 week diet of either fermented or high-fiber foods to test the effects on gut microbiome and the immune system as a whole. The study discovered that those who consumed a diet rich in fermented foods had an increase in microbial diversity, four types of immune cells showed less activation, and the levels of 19 inflammatory proteins measured in blood samples decreased. Proteins, as we learned in AP Bio, have many different functions and structures and just one changed amino acid in the structure can cause diseases or viruses because its characteristics (hydrophobic vs. hydrophilic, non-polar vs. polar) are altered. One of these inflammatory proteins decreased by fermented food consumption, interleukin 6, has been linked to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and chronic stress. The success and promise that these results provided were immeasurable, for gut microbes have the potential to defend against harmful microorganisms, digest certain foods, produce important molecules like short-chain fatty acids, facilitate the absorption of dietary minerals, synthesize essential vitamins and amino acids, and even shape mood/behavior. Along with that, research suggests that low microbiome diversity has been linked to obesity, diabetes, arthritis, eczema, and even types of cancer, so any chance to increase microbial diversity is an opportunity to leap to. 

On the contrary, in the study, those adults assigned to a high-fiber diet saw no inflammatory protein decrease and the diversity of their gut microbes remained on average the same. Through a final step of analyzing blood and stool samples collected throughout the trial, the scientists confirmed that short term dietary changes involving a diet rich in fermented foods/drinks can rapidly increase microbial diversity, resulting in a series of health benefits that ultimately aid in protection against serious health issues and in general just keep you healthy and happy! 

So next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up that bottle of kombucha. It may look questionable, but tastes pretty good and has so many health benefits!

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  1. cytokinesav

    Okay, wow! Fermented foods are big in Asian cultures. However, as an Asian myself, I didn’t know the actual extent of their health benefits. What really helped me understand this, though, was the part about 19 inflammatory proteins–when you related it to what we learned in Bio about polarity and its effects, I was able to understand that gut microbes have shown to be incredibly beneficial.

    I also wasn’t aware of the great importance and benefits of microbial diversity. I knew it helped our memory cells and immune response to a variety of pathogens, but not more than that. I did some research on how exactly scientists measure this through certain molecular genetic techniques!

    Doing more research, I found that eating these foods after having experiencing bad side effects from antibiotics is the right way to go. This explains your post perfectly as you speak of the balance these foods leave in your gut. Antibiotics eliminate both good and bad bacteria, so eating fermented foods would help restore the gut health environment to normal.

    Thank you for this well-written post. I know you love Kombucha, and I think it’s pretty cool that now you have scientific reasoning behind it!

  2. biosyntaysis

    Fascinating post, Lucytoplasm! I have always been extremely interested in gut health as a whole, so focusing in on fermented foods is very cool for me! I love how you focused in on exactly what fermented foods do and why they’re good for your gut by increasing microbial diversity. It is so crazy that simply increasing decreasing the inflammatory protein interleukin 6 can lead to a decrease in arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, and chronic stress! I also know that chronic inflamation can lead to heart disease and asthma – your article made me wonder if fermented foods could also decrease this inflammation as they are reducing inflammatory proteins. The answer is yes (! Thank you for bringing up that question. I appreciate how you included not only the effects of good/high microbiome diversity, but also the problems low microbiome diversity can create. I will make sure to grab myself a snack of yogurt and kombucha!!

  3. eukericotic

    I’ve been told many times that fermented foods are healthy for you, but the advice was all anecdotal. This post really changed my mind and informed me of the wonders of fermented foods! Although I was aware of the gut microbiome support that fermented foods provide, I was really impressed to read that fermented food consumption could decrease inflammatory proteins like interleukin-6.

    This article from the New York Times helped me better understand what fermenting really is: I now understand that the additions to your gut microbiome are due to the additions of yeast and bacteria to foods, the key factors of fermentation. I also learned that vitamins and lactic and citric acid are released as biproducts when foods are fermented. This ties to our current unit on cellular respiration, which I found interesting.

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