I’ve been reading a lot about the microbiome and the impact of fermented foods in your diet. I have to say, it’s pretty interesting stuff. It doesn’t sound like it should be interesting, but it is. The microbiome affects pretty much everything from weight loss to muscle building and from immune system function to mental health. Though scientists are far from fully understanding it, I think it’s time more of us start paying attention to how to feed it the good stuff.
The Microbiome Loves Fermented Foods
It’s true that researchers don’t fully understand the impact of the microbiome – that is, all the bacteria and other microscopic organisms that live inside your body, particularly in your digestive tract – on health. What they do know is that when the “good bacteria” are thriving, it means that there’s less room for the “bad bacteria”, and it also means that we’re healthier overall.
That’s really oversimplifying it. The microbiome does far more than that and it’s an extremely complex system with billions upon billions of individual organisms all playing various roles. But for the maximum capacity of my brain, that explains it. The next thing I know is that the “good bacteria” in the microbiome have a better chance of thriving when you eat good quality fermented foods. So, what am I going to do? I’m going to eat more fermented foods!
Research Supports a Microbiome-Friendly Diet
Stanford School of Medicine researchers published the results of a clinical trial they conducted. It had 36 healthy adult participants, so it was small. They had to follow a diet for 10 weeks that was either focused on high fiber foods or fermented foods. What they found was two different impacts on the immune system and the gut microbiome.
Some of the fermented foods that the participants in the fermented food group ate were:
- Fermented cottage cheese
- Vegetable brine drinks
- Fermented vegetables
- Kombucha tea
As a result, that group experienced a significant boost in overall microbial diversity. When larger portions were consumed, there was a stronger effect. According to the researchers, this offered a solid first example of the way that small and simple changes in diet can have a profound impact on a healthy microbiome.
The fermented foods group of participants also experienced less activation of four kinds of immune cells. To me, that sounded like it held back immune function. As it turns out, that just means that those participants experienced lower inflammation (this explains why I’m not a doctor, and why I’m a physical trainer with a blog instead of someone who gives out medical advice). There were, in fact 19 inflammatory proteins that were reduced in blood samples, one of which (interleukin 6, which I’d never heard of before this) is connected to Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic stress.