Fermented Supplements for Gut Health
Michael Lelah, Ph.D., Chief Research Scientist with Dr. Mercola
Who uses fermented foods?
As Americans, fermented foods may be lacking in our diet, but our ancestors consumed fermented foods for thousands of years. Other countries embrace it; many fermented foods come from diverse ethnic backgrounds —sauerkraut (Europe), lassi (Indian yogurt), kefir (milk-based), natto (Japan) and kimchi (Korea)—just to name a few.1
Fermented foods provide important nutrients: They are outstanding sources of essential nutrients, such as vitamin K and other vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes. Additionally, the fermentation process produces new nutrients, called metabolites2. These new kinds of nutrients are the bioflavonoids, antioxidants, and other compounds that are formed during the fermentation process and can provide additional health benefits beyond those in nonfermented foods.
Fermented foods are more easily digested: The fermentation process helps break down less digestible foods and makes them more easily digested in your stomach. This helps reduce acid reflux, bloating, stomach pains, etc., which are common with our processed foods today.
Fermented foods optimize your immune system: A majority of your immune system is in your gut. Probiotics play a crucial role in the development and operation of your mucosal immune system in your digestive tract. Fermented foods either contain probiotics or prebiotics, food for probiotics, to help in the colonization and health of these good-for-you probiotics in your gut.
Fermented foods detoxify: Fermented foods are great for detoxification.3 Many fermented foods form heavy metal chelators, which can help remove heavy metals from your body. Fermented foods can also help with the processing and removal of pesticides, PCBs, and other environmental toxins which we are exposed to on a daily basis.
Gut health: The state of your gut is an important indicator of your overall health. Metabolic syndrome, a prediabetic condition, can be linked to compositional changes in intestinal microbiota. A healthy diet of fermented foods helps beneficial bacteria in your gut to flourish. Your gut health plays an important role in your gene expression. The new science of epigenetics is finding that what you eat affects your genetic expression—you are what you eat! New research is demonstrating new links between gut and brain. For example, your gut produces the neurotransmitter—serotonin—which is known to have a positive influence on your mood. Also, the health of your gut is linked to obesity—to manage your weight you should manage your gut. To manage your gut, you should manage your foods.4
So far, we've talked about fermentation as if it was one process. But there are many different kinds of fermentation processes. Fermentation can be activated by bacteria or enzymes. Lactic acid or alcohol can be used to create fermented foods. This incredible variety of ways allows for the creation of the wide array of fermented foods in different cultures.
As Americans, we eat too many processed foods and not enough fermented foods, but fortunately there is an alternative. Fermented supplements can offer benefits to gut health.
Here are some examples:
Probiotics: Probiotics are critical for gut health. Your gut contains trillions of bacteria composed of thousands of different strains. Studies have shown connections between probiotics and improving many gut-related conditions. Choose probiotics that have high strength (10-100 Billion CFUs). Colony forming units (CFUs) are a measure of the potency of probiotics. Additionally, you want a formula that contains a variety of different probiotic species and strains. Different strains colonize and excrete valuable nutrients differently.
Vitamin K2: Vitamin K2 is an essential nutrient that is produced by fermentation. Vitamin K2 is in the Vitamin K family. It is produced by fermentation, usually from soy, but preferably from natto. Research on the health benefits of Vitamin K2 are just emerging. Vitamin K2 has been found to play a critical role in the absorption of calcium for bone health, supporting cardiovascular health, and even supporting nerve and muscle health. Recent research and expert opinions5 suggest that the MK7 form of vitamin K2 is the best form and optimum levels are about 120-180 micrograms per day.
Fermented garlic and ginseng: Garlic has been consumed for thousands of years for its viral and bacterial properties. Fermented black garlic is microbially fermented garlic that has been aged and caramelized. Ginseng that has been fermented has increased ginsenosides and has benefits for maintaining normal blood glucose levels. These are two examples of fermented foods which in supplement form can offer health benefits.
Fermented chlorella: Chlorella is an algae that is jam packed with vital nutrients – bioflavonoids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. It is a great nutrient source especially for vegetarians. It is also an important part of a detoxification program since chlorella is a powerful absorber of heavy metals and other toxins. The problem that we as humans have is that we can't digest chlorella. The typical way to improve the digestibility of chlorella is to mechanically mash the chlorella, breaking down the cell walls. You may have heard about broken cell wall chlorella, but in reality, this process is not very efficient and can be improved through enzymatic fermentation.
In summary, fermented foods and supplements provide important gut nutrients. Fermented foods have been consumed for thousands of years, but more recent scientific research is leading to the development of fermented foods as dietary supplements because of the many health benefits they can provide.
3. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/ archive/2011/07/16/this-food-helps-you-to-detoxpesticides. aspx
4. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/ archive/2012/03/18/mcbride-and-barringerinterview. aspx
5. K2 Symposium and Expert Panel, Supply Side West, Las Vegas, NV, 2015