Tag Archives: fermented recipes

The Gut Microbiome-Breast Cancer Connection

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so we’re honoring women’s wellness this month by first taking a closer look at how the gut microbiome and breast cancer may be linked in surprising ways, and then looking at some of the top anti-cancer foods you can start incorporating into your daily diet right away.

1 in 8 Women will get Breast Cancer

Did you know 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer at some point in their lifetime? Odds are you know someone who is a breast cancer survivor. Maybe you are. Or you may have lost someone to breast cancer.

If this is you, then keep reading, because this blog post is especially for you.

About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are genetic, which means that if your mom or grandmother had breast cancer, your risk for developing it will be higher.

But here’s the good news:

Genetics Versus Toxins Scale - Illustration

The vast majority of breast cancer cases are influenced by the food and lifestyle choices you make every day.

This is called “epigenetics.” In other words, when you eat the right foods (more on those in a minute), exercise regularly, detoxify your body properly, avoid smoking and excess alcohol, take care of your gut health, and manage stress, you can reduce your overall risk of developing breast cancer.

This week, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I want to focus on the one thing often missing in the conversation about breast health — the health of your gut.

Long-Term Breast Health Starts in the Gut

Like all diseases, there is almost always more than one factor involved in breast cancer. That said, when it comes to laying a foundation for healthy breasts (and hormones) in the long-term, gut health is something that can’t be ignored. If you’re been a long-time Happy Gut reader, this won’t come as a huge surprise. After all, supporting the gut microbiome – that diverse ecosystem living inside you comprising trillions of symbiotic bacteria – impacts nearly every system in your body. The breasts and your hormones are no exception. In fact, your breasts actually have their own specific microbiome. And while we’re still understanding how this works, specific bacteria in the breast microbiome can support healthy breast tissue, while imbalances in the make-up of that bacteria can increase your risk of breast cancer.

Woman Holding Her Stomach

Today, though, we’ll be focusing on the gut microbiome, which we know plays many roles in the body. Some important ones that are relevant to breast health include:

  • Supporting immune system development and maintenance, which is key in cancer prevention and recovery.
  • Fermenting  indigestible fibers into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which have been shown to have anti-cancer properties.
  • Producing essential amino acids that are key to a healthy immune system.
  • Producing vitamins, including B vitamins and vitamin K, which have a protective effect against breast cancer.
  • Increasing the absorption of minerals that can prevent key nutrient deficiencies that may put you at higher risk for diseases of all kinds.
  • Supporting regular elimination, which allows estrogen and other hormone metabolites to be excreted from the body efficiently
  • Deactivating toxins and carcinogens that are linked to increased breast cancer risk.

Looking at this list, you can see right away how absolutely critical a healthy gut microbiome is to breast cancer prevention. This is particularly true for the last bullet point because…

It’s suspected that gut bacteria play an important role in our ability to deactivate or detoxify the nearly constant onslaught of toxins that we encounter daily.

Knowing this, it’s not surprising that newer research is showing that a compromised gut can impact the risk of breast cancer.

The Gut Health-Immune System Connection You Should Know About

The delicate balance maintained by the trillions of microorganisms influences so many aspects of our health. For example, when your gut microbes are in harmony, you maintain a healthy weight, you feel great, and you keep disease at bay. Unfortunately, when that delicately orchestrated ecosystem inside your gut loses its state of harmony — as so frequently happens in our modern world — it can have serious consequences.

This loss of harmony is called dysbiosis, which literally means “living out of harmony with,” In dysbiosis, bad gut bacteria take over and throw an unwelcome party in your gut, crowding out beneficial bacteria and disrupting nutrient absorption, perhaps creating constipation, and sabotaging the healthy elimination of excess hormones and toxins. This sounds bad but dysbiosis is usually subtle. It evolves over time and can exist in the background for months or years.

Among many things, dysbiosis causes a domino effect that can lead to leaky gut syndrome and disruptions in the ability of your immune system to fight infections and keep cancer cells in check. Eventually, this can lower the effectiveness of certain immune cells, such as lymphocytes, while increasing others, like neutrophils. Animal studies have found that gut microbiome alterations lead to the development of breast tumors. Researchers have also found that imbalances in the gut microbiome can even affect the survival of patients with breast cancer.

This connection is further proven by what we’ve learned about antibiotics in recent years. Antibiotics, which are often overprescribed, impact the biodiversity and abundance of some bacterial communities and disrupt the balance of the gut microbiome, increasing the risk of diseases, including cancer.

How the Microbiome, Inflammation, and Cancer Are Linked

As it turns out, dysbiosis can play a role in many types of cancer, including breast cancer. In fact, scientists have coined a word, “oncobiome,” to describe the interaction between the gut microbiome and cancer. The microbiome influences the development of cancer formation in several ways:

  • It stimulates cells to increase in number or self-destruct 
  • It regulates the immune response
  • It metabolizes indigestible dietary components, medications, and other xenobiotics or foreign substances in the body
  • It reduces inflammation in the gut and the entire body 

This has inspired an increase in research about the gut microbiome — breast cancer connection. For instance, one study found that the microbe composition of women with breast cancer differs from that of healthy women. The authors wrote that specific bacteria are able to produce estrogen-metabolizing enzymes, that the gut microbiota is capable of modulating estrogen serum levels, and that estrogen-like compounds in the gut may support the growth of certain types of bacteria. In other words, there’s a LOT of interplay between the gut microbiota and estrogen — a hormone that plays an extremely important role in the development of breast cancer.

Estrogen Chemical Formula

From that understanding, we are now exploring how certain bacteria, like the Firmicutes population and Akkermansia muciniphila, could play a part in the development of cancer.

Gut inflammation is another huge driver for cancer, since the inflammation that starts in the gut can eventually impact the entire body.  I mentioned antibiotics as a primary driver of dysbiosis, which can lead to leaky gut and a host of gut problems. In one study, when mice were given antibiotics, their guts became unhealthy and inflamed from the microbe imbalances. With the gut environment messed up, researchers proposed breast cancer could become more invasive and spread faster throughout the body.

Another study looked at a possible link between prolonged gut inflammation and breast cancer. The researchers discovered that mammary carcinoma (a type of cancer that can start in cells that make up the skin) developed within four to six weeks in mice that acquired an infection with Helicobacter hepaticus, a gut-associated pathogen. Mice mature about 25 times faster than humans, so we can’t take the results of this study and directly apply them to you or me, but this study does provide helpful hints as to how specific gut bacteria may create conditions that increase the risk of breast cancer in humans. Studies like these show that specific species of bacteria should be on our radar when looking for the underlying causes of cancer.

But research, without practical, clear actions you can take creates more angst than helps. That said, what can you do if you are worried your gut is imbalanced? What if you’ve been on multiple rounds of antibiotics? What if you suffer from bloating and constipation?

Or you’re simply worried you might be one of the every eight women who is at risk for breast cancer in your lifetime?

Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer, One Bite at a Time

As I mentioned earlier, most breast cancer cases are not caused by genetics, but by lifestyle and environmental factors. What this means is you have A LOT of power when it comes to reducing your risk of breast cancer and maintaining breast health throughout your life.

The best place to start is with what’s at the end of your fork, because what you eat can alter the gut flora, for better or worse.

I talk about the seven worst foods for gut health you should avoid in a blog I wrote for mindbodygreen. When you remove these foods, which are “toxic” to your body because they activate your immune response, it initiates the process that allows your microbiome to become more balanced.

But when I tell my patients what they can’t eat, they’re often baffled and ask, “What’s left to eat? Seriously, what should I eat?” So, let’s focus on the positive — what foods are BEST for preventing breast cancer. And that means nutrient-dense, colorful plant foods that contain important nutrients for supporting overall gut health and detoxification.

The Top Breast Cancer-Fighting Foods

Breast Cancer Fighting Foods - Broccoli

1. Broccoli

Studies have shown that higher intakes of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower are associated with reduced breast cancer risk, especially in premenopausal women. I suggest opting for broccoli because it’s the only cruciferous vegetable to pack meaningful amounts of sulforaphane, an antioxidant which has demonstrated anti-breast cancer activity. Broccoli is an all-around nutrient superstar that makes a great side dish, easily sauteed in coconut oil and garlic. This Creamy Broccoli Soup also makes a warming, savory starter for the cold months ahead!

Breast Cancer Fighting Foods - Avocado

2. Avocado

This delicious fruit is loaded with fiber and important nutrients, like potassium. They are also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower inflammation and support bothe gut and breast health. This Happy Gut Omelet combines creamy avocado with another cancer-fighting cruciferous rockstar — Brussels sprouts. This is my go-to recipe for a quick, delicious brunch or lunch.

Breast Cancer Fighting Foods - Purple Cabbage

3. Purple Cabbage

The bold color makes this type of cabbage more nutrient-rich. Purple cabbage contains two cancer-fighting compounds — sulforaphane and anthocyanins. My Happy Gut® Slaw combines purple cabbage with other cancer-fighting, gut-healing foods, such as garlic and turmeric kraut. It’s also fermented, which doubles the benefits for breast health. Emerging evidence is showing that the probiotics in fermented foods can protect against breast cancer. We are still learning about specific strains, dosage, and regimen. What we’re seeing is promising, though:

  • One study found that the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri, a specific strain of bacteria found in dairy ferments, could inhibit early-stage breast cancer and improve breast cell sensitivity to apoptosis.
  • Metabolites of the lactic acid bacteria found in lacto ferments are jumpstart specific receptors in the body, like the hydroxycarboxylic acid receptor 3, that activate the immune system and help keep chronic inflammation under control.

Learn more about fermented foods, including all types of delicious lacto ferments, here.

Breast Cancer Fighting Foods - Blueberries

4. Blueberries

Organic blueberries are packed with nutrients and fiber as well as antioxidants that can prevent DNA damage. My Wild Blueberry Breakfast Muffins combine blueberries with avocado oil and almond butter in a delicious, easy-to-make snack or breakfast. Because environmental toxins can play a big role in the development of cancer, I strongly encourage you to choose organic produce whenever possible. Learn more about your best choices and more ways to minimize that toxic impact here.

Breast Cancer Fighting Foods - Cauliflower

5. Cauliflower

Besides also being a cruciferous veggie, cauliflower is also high in fiber, which is critical to breast cancer prevention. Why? Fiber is your gut’s best friend. Previously, I mentioned how gut bacteria turn fiber into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). There are other benefits of eating high-fiber foods.

  • Fiber binds to hormones such as estrogen to prevent those hormones from entering the circulation and creating havoc. In my next blog, I’ll talk more about this and how not managing estrogen levels can lead to a condition called estrogen dominance.
  • Researchers found that premenopausal women who ate over 30 grams of fiber daily could lower their risk of breast cancer.
  • Eating raw vegetables can lower your risk of breast cancer by 34 percent.
  • Fiber can help restore gut bacteria, increasing healthy Bifidobacterium and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, which offer anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor benefits.

Sometimes I tell patients to avoid anything white, such as sugar or flour. But there’s an exception to every rule, and cauliflower is that exception. This cruciferous veggie gets spiced up in this very flavorful Curry Cauliflower Rice recipe.

In all fairness, there are a lot of great foods that you can choose among to stay healthy, support gut health, and reduce your risk of breast cancer. Narrowing them down to five was tough. From these favorites, I shared a couple of delicious Happy Gut-approved recipes that you’ll love.

Right now, we have fewer studies on the gut microbiome and breast cancer than with other cancers. But luckily, that’s changing! One current clinical trial is determining whether the gut microbiome plays a role in fighting advanced breast cancer by impacting how immune cells work.

I’m confident that emerging studies will continue to show that supporting the gut impacts many conditions, including breast cancer. But you don’t have to wait for science to catch up. The foundation of great health is in your gut! When you love your gut with healthy food and lifestyle choices, you’re taking a big step towards supporting breast health and reducing your risk of breast cancer.

With school back in session and everyone “falling” back into a routine, you may not always have time to prepare extravagant meals filled with these cancer-fighting foods above. That’s why I love smoothies — they provide fast, filling nourishment and are absolutely jam-packed with nutrients. To inspire you to eat the breast cancer-fighting foods above in the quickest and most delicious way possible, I created this 7 Breast Health-Supporting Smoothie Recipes download. These smoothies make taking care of your breast and hormone health easy and delicious.

CLICK HERE to Download the Free Recipes Today!

7 Breast Health-Supporting Smoothie Recipes
Getting Started with Fermentation - A How-To Guide

Getting Started With Fermentation: A How-to Guide

In last week’s guest blog from Summer Bock, you learned about the many (many!) benefits of functional ferments like water kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha. From helping modulate the immune system to neurotransmitter production, inoculating the gut with fermented foods is one of the most important keys to a Happy Gut (and “happy brain”). 

This week, I’ll be chatting with Summer — a friend, fermentationist, and the creator of her own course on fermentation (which is available for anyone) —  about how to get started with fermentation.

Getting started with fermentation

If you’ve read Happy Gut®, you know that I wouldn’t be able to share this content about  fermentation with you without showing you the practical ways you can get started fermenting at home. This is especially true with fermentation because it can be intimidating at first. Even for me, one of the world’s leading gut health doctors, fermentation can feel like a science experiment that might go awry. 

Summer knows this better than anyone. As she explains it, “fermentation really is an acquired taste.” For most people, it takes a few tries before they learn to love fermented foods. “But once their body gets exposed to microbes in the ferment, that communication through the gut-brain axis helps to change their taste buds and they start to crave them,” she continues. 

That’s one of the reasons I jumped at the opportunity to ask Summer my burning fermentation questions. Let’s jump in!

Dr. Pedre: Last week you mentioned that Kombucha was a good gateway ferment. What does that mean?

Summer: A gateway ferment is a ferment that allows you to acquire the taste for fermented foods — because fermented foods really ARE an acquired taste. For most people it takes a few tries.

When I started my sauerkraut company, I was living with three roommates. I was making extra sauerkraut all the time and people would come over and buy it on an honor system, leaving money in a jar. At the time there was no other way to get raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut. One out of twenty people would try it and say “Eh, no thanks!” but without fail, a week later, those same people would come back and buy a jar. They would tell me: “I know I took a bite and didn’t want it, but I have not stopped thinking about this since I tasted it.” It helped me understand how the body really does tell you what you need.

That’s what happens with gateway ferments.

Dr. Pedre: If you want to try fermented foods from the store before you make them at home. What are some things to keep in mind while shopping?

Summer: With any ferment, you want to make sure it’s fermented in glass, food grade stainless steel, or a crock, which is a container specifically designed for safe fermentation. A lot of industrial companies are fermenting in plastic barrels. And even though they are mostly BPA-free, there are a lot of other chemicals in plastic to be concerned about. One of the 5 ways to leach chemicals out of plastic is acid. You want to ask the manufacturers: Does this touch plastic at any point in the process?

You should also not be buying a ferment if it has vinegar added because that will kill off probiotics. There’s a time and a place for vinegar but it’s not in your ferment. You also want to avoid any added sugar in any products, especially kombucha, water kefir and dairy ferments, like yogurt.

Dr. Pedre: What about companies that add probiotics to their kimchi or sauerkraut? Is that ok?

Summer: With many ferments, if they are adding probiotics to it, it changes the flavor and longevity of the ferment. It can affect shelf life and it’ll change the crunchiness over time in a bad way. Why? Because fermentation is an intricate process and involves many steps of bacteria production and each one is critical to the health benefits of the final product. In other words, you can’t skip ahead by just adding probiotics. Plus, why would you add starter culture to a process that doesn’t need it? You’re putting a bandaid on top of a cast.

Dr. Pedre: Where should you shop for ferments?

Summer: One of my favorite ways to buy ferments is to go to a farmer’s market because then you can ask the producer questions about the process. Ask them what kind of vessel they used. Did they ferment or store it in plastic at any point during its production? If you don’t have any ferments at your farmers market, and you’re buying from a bigger company, check their website. A great fermentation company will be transparent about the process and the equipment they’re using. And they’d definitely understand the detriment of plastic and acids!

Dr. Pedre: Is it normal to be anxious about trying fermentation at home?

Summer: Yes! You have to break through your social upbringing. We were raised to be very sanitary. We are very afraid of germs and we are always trying to KILL off the germs. When you make a fermented food and let it sit on your counter — for anywhere from 7 days to 9 months or even 9 YEARS for certain misos — while bacteria grow in it, you are pushing every cultural boundary you’ve been taught.

It’s normal to feel totally out of your comfort zone. I still experience it the first time I ferment anything new. I call it the “terror barrier.” You’re like: Okay, I’m going to put this in my mouth, even though I was taught not to. You have to bust through this, but once you do it changes the way you see the world. You’re no longer afraid of bacteria. Understanding fermentation allows you to have a relationship with bacteria instead of a fear of them.

Dr. Pedre: I couldn’t agree more about not being afraid of symbiotic bacteria. Next question: Why are homemade ferments better than the ones in the store?

Summer: Big fermentation companies have changed the ferments and made them less beneficial for the sake of mass production. For example, the dairy kefir you buy in the store is not actually kefir. It’s a “dairy kefir-like” beverage. You’ll get some benefits, but it’s not true kefir. There are much greater benefits in real kefir, with a naturally occuring balance of yeast and bacteria.

Dr. Pedre: I’ve definitely seen the healing benefits of homemade kefirs for my patients. So, then it’s better to make ferments at home?

Summer: Yes. You’ll get higher bacterial counts if you make it at home because you get to eat it at its peak. You also get to control what kind of container it’s in and you can make sure to put it in a safe fermentation vessel. You can also make the ferment more friendly to you if you have food allergies or sensitivities. You can also choose the materials and flavors, making it a more personalized experience.

Dr. Pedre: Yum! I’m already dreaming up different spices I can add to a homemade sauerkraut. Speaking of… what are the best ferments for beginners to try at home?

Summer: No question the best place to start is with lacto ferments. Lacto fermentation is a simple fermentation process that breaks down sugars to produce lactic acid and bacteria, mostly from the family Lactobacillus. It includes functional ferments like sauerkraut, kimchi, cucumber, and other pickled vegetables. I recommend starting with lacto ferments because you can make them to your specifications and they require the least amount of supplies and no starter culture. They have the least amount of allergens and they’re the easiest one to make with the best probiotic profile at the end.

My advice is to start with lacto ferments and get really adept and learn all the different kinds. You can add curry flavors, seaweed, nettle herbs. You can make lacto fermented pickles, beans, and okra.

Dr. Pedre: Ok, let’s dive in. How DO you make lacto ferments?

Summer: I’d recommend starting with a simple one. Sauerkraut is probably one of the easiest places to get started.

Fermentation - Getting Started Infographic

Sauerkraut

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A jar
  • A rubber band
  • A paper towel or clean dish towel
  • Salt
  • Cabbage (you can use any kind but usually I like green cabbage)

I’m not going to include a step-by-step guide here, because I always recommend following video instructions instead of written ones. You can check out my amazing FREE Video Workshop for Making Fermented Veggies At Home.

There, I take you through a step-by-step video guide for fermenting veggies, including troubleshooting and commonly asked questions. That way, you can feel totally confident that you won’t miss or misinterpret a step! You want to get started with the right foundation, so you can glean the greatest benefits from ferments. Once you feel comfortable, you can branch out and try these creative sauerkraut recipes.

Dr. Pedre: If you’re not a fan of sauerkraut, is there another option for beginners?

Summer: I’d recommend dairy kefir, which is the easiest dairy ferment. It’s much easier to make at home than yogurt and a great place to start with dairy ferments. Since kefir needs a starter culture, you need to purchase dairy kefir grains. You can get these from a friend, Facebook or Etsy, or my favorite, KombuchaKamp.  I do not recommend that you buy dehydrated ones. In my experience dehydrated kefir grains just have way too many issues and require a lot more troubleshooting than is suited for a beginner. To make kefir, you can check out my step-by-step video guide here.

Dr. Pedre: What are some common questions and concerns when someone is starting to ferment?

Summer: The question that most people have is, “Am I doing it right, or am I going to poison myself?” It’s okay to fail the first time; most people do. It’s a learning curve and that’s why I recommend video guides. A demonstration helps prevent missing a step or misinterpreting a step.

Because this is a process that evolved centuries ago before people used labs, it’s actually fairly safe. That said, I still recommend a ‘3-step ferment check’ when you start fermenting:

How To Enjoy Your First Ferments

Smell Test - Icon

1. Smell…

… it to ensure it smells like food (if it smells like feet, toss it and start again)

Taste Test - Icon

2. Taste…

… some in your mouth and then spit it out (pretend you’re a sommelier and look out for anything weird)

Eat Test - Icon

3. Eat…

… and enjoy it if it smells and tastes right!

This helps you feel more comfortable. Don’t just plop it in your mouth or eat half the jar.

Dr. Pedre: Do we need to worry about botulism?

Summer: People worry about botulism. But the bacteria that causes botulism can’t grow in an acidic environment. If your sauerkraut is sauerkraut, it can’t contain botulism.

Dr. Pedre: What if we see mold growing on a ferment? Has it gone bad?

Summer: If it’s got a little bit of mold growing on the top of it, you can usually scrape it off the top layer and still eat what’s underneath. However, if there’s pink mold on your kefir, you need to start over. If you see black mold on anything, don’t eat it. Toss it!

Dr. Pedre: Should we keep ferments away from sunlight?

Summer: I say put it in your pantry or a cupboard or on a countertop; NOT in direct sunlight. I’m less concerned about sunlight and more concerned with temperature fluctuation.

Dr. Pedre: Okay, last question. You told us what the best beginner ferments are. But what is the most advanced, “out of the box” ferment you’ve ever come across?

Summer: Natto is hands down the craziest one that I’ve ever tried. It smells like stinky socks to some people, and it’s very mucousy. And for a lot of people it can take 8 to 12 times of trying to like it. But I love it! It’s incredibly satiating.

Getting started with fermentation at home can be intimidating for some at first. Imagine putting in the time to get started with your first ferment, to have it fail the ‘smell test’ — and that’s why what Summer does is so important!

Making Fermented Veggies At Home - Virtual Workshop with Summer Bock

Following a step-by-step video guide, you can feel secure knowing that you’re doing it right and not missing or misinterpreting any steps. And the best part is knowing you’ll be on your way to no more bloating, no more brain fog, and optimizing your overall gut health — the key to conquering chronic conditions!

Before we go, I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to Summer Bock for being our guest contributor for the month of September. Thanks to her, we are now all mini experts on fermentation. And I can’t wait to get started at home!

The Benefits of Fermentation

The Benefits of Fermentation? An Essential Guide

BY SUMMER BOCK

 

Last week, in my first of three guest blogs for Happy Gut Life, I introduced you to the wonderful world of fermentation — a world that has drastically changed my life for the better. What started as a simple method for preserving food has stuck around and decades later, the world is still obsessed with fermentation. That’s no mistake — it’s because fermentation’s health benefits are too strong to ever go out of style.

I’ll be honest: As a fermentationist and the creator of my own course on fermentation, I could talk about the benefits of ferments indefinitely. I’ll only be skimming the surface here; but I know I’ll still leave you convinced that incorporating functional ferments into your life is a no-brainer for so many reasons.

Let’s dive in!

What are the benefits of ferments?

Functional ferments are famous for improving digestion and gut health, but that doesn’t mean their benefits end there. As you already know from being a loyal reader of the Happy Gut Life blog, the health status of our gut microbiome impacts many aspects of our health, including our mood and energy levels.

Therefore, while functional ferments primarily work on the gut,
their benefits go far beyond digestion.

In my mind, the benefits of functional ferments can be loosely divided into three categories: digestion, immunity, and brain health.

1. Digestion

When it comes to digestion, incorporating ferments can improve symptoms like bloating, constipation, nausea, and diarrhea but also more serious digestive issues. For example, research has established a strong connection between the gut microbiome and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. These diseases are characterized by a loss of diversity in the gut microbiome. Ferments can help promote re-diversification of the gut microbiome.

Beyond that, functional elements can also help with nutrient absorption. How? The enzymes that break down fiber and make it more bioavailable. As they’re breaking down that fiber, they also release byproducts like butyrate (a short-chain fatty acid essential for good health) and nutrients like vitamin B and vitamin K.

Speaking of byproducts, acetic acid —  a byproduct of fermentation that provides the tarte vinegar flavor you’ll notice in most ferments — works to lower our glucose response to protect blood sugar levels. It also helps acidify the stomach, and increases the release of bile and digestive enzymes, which help you digest fat and assimilate harder to digest nutrients. Knowing this, it’s no surprise to learn that researchers are looking into the possibility that eating fermented foods could help prevent the metabolic changes that occur with type 2 diabetes.

Clearly, fermented foods help the gut in more ways than one.

Microbiome Health Venn Diagram

2. Immunity

Here’s the truth: There are always going to be pathogenic microorganisms slipping through your nose and mouth and into your gut. The key is to be resilient enough to fight them off. That’s where the beneficial bacteria in functional ferments come in; they keep those inevitable bad bacteria from proliferating, growing, and making you sick. This is called competitive inhibtion — the growth of favorable bacteria produces factors, even antimicrobial proteins, that inhibit the growth of other unfavorable bacteria and yeast.

Eating functional ferments is all about building the resilience of your gut. And considering that fact that the vast majority of your immune system is in your gut, it means increasing the resiliency of your immune system in general, too. Remember…

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Your gut is the gateway to your immunity.”

Dr. Pedre Signature

This applies to long-term health, such as fending off chronic inflammation and preventing autoimmunity — gut bacterial imbalances have been connected to a wide range of autoimmune diseases, including lupus and arthritis — but also in acute situations.

For example, if I feel that I’m about to get sick digestively from something I eat, I start increasing my intake of ferments and it often prevents it from developing into something bigger.  Research has also connected dysbiosis, an imbalance in gut bacteria, to allergies and asthma, other immune conditions with a connection to the health and state of your gut lining and gut microbiome.

3. Brain Health

Brain health is all about neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity describes the ability to adapt to a changing environment. It also is what’s behind your ability to learn and remember things. Without neuroplasticity, dementia sets in. And not surprisingly, there is a powerful connection between the gut and brain when it comes to supporting brain health.

Of the three main benefits of fermentation, this is probably the one I love most. There’s a whole concept called microbial endocrinology, which is the study of how microorganisms and human cells communicate back and forth using our neurotransmitters, hormones, and other chemicals.  For example, bacteria help with the synthesis of serotonin in the gut and GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps us feel calm and relaxed, is also influenced by specific bacteria. This fascinates me to no end — bacteria are single-celled organisms with no nervous systems and yet, they can produce neurotransmitters and respond to them. It’s like these chemicals are text messages and the bacteria are on AT&T and human cells are on Verizon [just randomly, no favorites here]. They’re not exactly the same but they still manage to communicate.

What’s most remarkable in my opinion is that butyrate, one of the short-chain fatty acids resulting from the bacterial fermentation of fiber, is a powerful agent of neuroplasticity. It gets absorbed through your digestive lining and then circulates through your body, where it crosses the blood brain barrier, and then enters your neurons to turn on genes involved in memory formation. Take a pause and absorb that!!!

Before we move on, I want to make clear that it’s not JUST the probiotic that makes ferments so beneficial. And that’s why I consider them more beneficial than a probiotic supplement.

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Functional ferments are the ultimate gut-healing superfood. "

Why? Because they not only provide beneficial bacteria, they also provide natural fiber — which is the food that helps the probiotics grow and thrive — as well as by products, like acetic acid and lactic acid, that will feed them and supercharge their ability to provide health benefits.

What are the different functional ferments and their benefits?

Last week we learned that there are a few different classes of functional ferments; this week, we’ll dive into each class and talk about some of the specific benefits of each, starting with…

Lacto Ferment Benefit

Lacto ferments are a great source of probiotics. In fact, I would consider them the premier source of probiotics, which means they will have awesome benefits for the immune system. One example of a lacto ferment with incredible health benefits is Kimchi.

Kimchi is fermented cabbage and studies have shown that it has effects against the flu. There’s even some research suggesting that the frequent consumption of fermented cabbage in certain countries could explain some of the differences in COVID-19 rates in those countries. For example, the authors of a study published in May wrote that: “Foods with potent antioxidant or anti ACE activity—like uncooked or fermented cabbage —are largely consumed in low-death rate European countries, Korea and Taiwan, and might be considered in the low prevalence of deaths [from COVID-19].”

Legume Ferment Benefit

2. Legume Ferment Benefit

Fermenting legumes is less about creating a probiotic-rich food (leave that to lacto ferments!) than it is about making legumes more digestible. Fermenting legumes breaks down phytic acids (a damaging acid on their surface skin that inhibits the absorption of important nutrients like iron) and lectin proteins, which as we learned last month in The Lectin Paradox blog series, will make them healthier and easier to digest.

That means less gas and bloating after eating it and it will also mean that you absorb more of the protein in legumes, so you’ll feel more satiated. One example of a legume ferment is tempeh.

“I’ve found that even people that are otherwise allergic to soy can often tolerate tempeh… because it’s FERMENTED.”

Grain Ferment Benefit

3. Grain Ferment Benefit

Much like legumes, the fermentation process for grains reduces phytic acid and gluten, and infuses the grain with probiotics and other organisms and yeasts that make it more digestible. Probably the most famous example of a grain ferment is sourdough bread. And while I wouldn’t go as far as to say that sourdough is a health food, if you’re choosing sourdough over other types of bread you are making a healthier choice. However, be mindful of the length of fermentation time, because most store-bought sourdough breads are not fermented the traditional French 72 hrs before they are baked, making them less friendly to your gut.

Beverage Ferment Benefit

4. Beverage Ferment Benefit

Beverage ferments are probably the most commonly consumed ferments, with kombucha at the top of the popularity list. I do think kombucha is a great introduction to fermented foods for many people, but I’ll be honest: I have mixed feelings about kombucha’s health benefits for a few reasons. First, kombucha wasn’t designed to be consumed in 16-ounces at once. (I recommend keeping it to 4-ounces every day.) It also contains trace amounts of caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, which are three of the most addictive substances on the planet. These substances spell bad news for your gut microbiome, meaning that if you suffer from a dysbiosis you may not react well to them. That brings me to a very…

IMPORTANT POINT: Not all functional ferments work for everyone.

And that’s why I’m giving away access to my Chronic Health Conditions & Fermentation Pairings Chart

… so you can find the best beverage ferment for you and go beyond the common cookie-cutter protocol to balance the microbiome (that doesn’t work for everyone).

As a fermentationist, I often get asked the question:

“What positive side effects will I notice first, after starting to consume fermented foods?”

My answer to this is always the same.

Within the first week, almost all of my clients notice two significant changes:

1. Sugar cravings start to subside.

This is because certain bad bacteria live on sugar and can actually cause you to crave it. When you start crowding those bacteria out, your sugar cravings naturally subside — no willpower required.

2. Bowel movements increase in frequency.

They will become more regular and more frequent, which will help them feel less bloated so they can stop reaching for their spanx.

At the end of the day,

the benefits of functional ferments prove that we have a far more intimate relationship with microbes in our food than we’ve been led to believe.

Think about it: When you eat a carrot, it gets broken down into small pieces, absorbed by your body and eventually, it becomes part of you. Can you say the same for a skincare product?

In truth, we’re providing a home for these organisms and instead of respecting them, in our “advanced” world we are often desolating them with herbicides, medications, chemicals, and preservatives contaminating our food, water, and environment. Ironically, what we use to provide a perceived benefit in one respect, ends up hurting us in the long run.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time we started showing that relationship the respect and care it deserves. It’s time to slow down and allow living foods to be your medicine. That’s what functional ferments are all about.

Next week, I’ll be providing a super-practical guide to getting started with fermentation at home, which in my opinion is the best way to really reap the benefits of functional ferments.