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.
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!