This one nutritional strategy can benefit gut health — and fight inflammation
“An increase in fermented foods leads to a decrease in circulating inflammatory markers.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. You’re worried about your body image — so worried, in fact, you can’t sleep (it’s a lot sometimes). What if we told you that your bodily hang-ups and your sleep problems have a common denominator? Both are, at least in part, influenced by the health of your gut microbiome. According to a study published in July, there may be a nutritional solution to satisfy all of these issues.
The discovery — In the study, the researchers investigated how the gut microbiomes of people who ate either a diet rich in fermented foods or a high-fiber diet differed from one another in terms of microbial diversity and overall health.
People with a diet high in fermented foods showed increasing diversity within their gut microbiome over time. They also show reduced levels of 19 proteins in the blood that are linked to inflammation.
One of these proteins is a cytokine known as IL-6. Having too much IL-6 is associated with certain health conditions linked to inflammation, including type-2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic stress. Elevated IL-6 levels are also associated with more severe Covid-19 symptoms.
“The result that an increase in fermented foods leads to a decrease in circulating inflammatory markers across an entire cohort of healthy adults is something that people haven't seen before,” Hannah Wastyk, lead author and CEO of Interface Biosciences told Inverse when the study published.
Here’s the background — Scientists already know that a balanced microbiome means a healthy population of microbes with anti-inflammatory powers. These microbes can lower your risk of diabetes, obesity, and irritable bowel syndrome. Having certain bacterial species in the gut may also predict your risk for colon cancer.
This new study adds to a growing body of evidence that fermented foods benefit your gut and keep it a diverse and cosmopolitan place But fermented foods are not a cure-all.
Why it matters — Just as fermented foods are not a cure-all for inflammatory conditions, so too are they not a way to cancel out other decisions you might make to do with diet.
“If somebody is having a hamburger and French fries and then they wash it down with kombucha, you’re not really giving yourself a great health advantage,” Dana S. Simpler, MD, an internist from Mercy Medical Center, tells Inverse. Simpler was not involved in this study.
Instead, pairing fermented foods with other gut-boosting tips like a plant-based diet might help your chances at a diverse range of gut microbes.
“There are many things that affect gut health. It’s affected by what you eat, by medications, specifically antibiotics, and it’s also affected by emotion because the entire lining of our intestine is lined with neurotransmitters,” Simpler tells Inverse. “Fermented foods are just one small aspect of people’s overall gut health.”
What’s next — Simpler’s point reflects the fact that many factors that influence our health — both inside and outside. Wastyk and her team, for example, hope they can illuminate more of these relationships in future research.
“Future studies in the Sonnenburg lab seek to investigate the effects different microbiome-targeted interventions have on various populations [such as] prebiotic supplements in the elderly,” Wastyk tells Inverse in an interview for this story.
Also of interest, she says, is the “synergistic effect of high fiber and high fermented foods, probiotic supplements on those with metabolic syndrome, etc.” In other words, how might a diet rich in fiber and fermented foods benefit gut health, and in turn, treat health conditions linked to inflammation like diabetes? Only time and more scientific investigation may tell.