Fermented Foods Need This Probiotic Boost to Heal the GutFermented Foods Need This Probiotic Boost to Heal the Gut
The use of fermented foods by ancestral cultures to preserve food, enhance nutritional value, and protect health goes back thousands of years and spans the globe. The practice served to significantly bolster immunity and increase the longevity of traditional societies as consumption of these probiotic rich foods introduced a constant stream of beneficial bacteria into the gut on a daily basis which improved digestion and nutrient absorption, discouraged pathogenic activity, and maintained top notch intestinal health.
An often overlooked source of very powerful, beneficial microbes by traditional societies included ingestion of soil based probiotics via pure, unfiltered water from streams, rivers and lakes and from exposure to clean, nutrient rich dirt.
Foods commonly fermented by cultures around the world include:
- Milk (all inhabited continents)
- Vegetables (all inhabited continents)
- Beans (Asia)
- Fish (Korea, Sweden, Japan, Russia, North America)
- Meats (Europe and the Middle East)
- Cereal grains (Africa, Europe, and South America)
The Russian scientist Ilia Metchnikoff began to study probiotics for the very first time in the late 1800s. He noticed that the people of Bulgaria who regularly consumed fermented milk enjoyed great health and lived to unusually old age.
Working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Metchnikoff isolated the first probiotic – Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which we now know is one of the main beneficial microbes in yogurt.
He used this bacterium in his scientific trials, and for awhile it became a very popular health supplement in Europe. The discovery of antibiotics in 1928 and their widespread adoption after the second World War significantly reduced interest in the subject, however, with scientific research into probiotics mostly forgotten for a time.
The last 20 years or so has witnessed a massive resurgence in interest in the subject of probiotics for human and animal health, and these helpful microbes have been shown to not only improve symptoms, but in some cases completely heal a wide variety of gastrointestinal disorders.
Investigation into the use of probiotics as part of the treatment regimen for other health problems has shown promise as well, particularly for autoimmune disorders of all kinds – gastrointestinal or not.
As the public has caught on about the value of probiotics for healing the gut and resolving problems with autoimmunity, interest in fermented foods has soared. While this is a good thing, as fermented foods are definitely a key to maintaining optimal health, the downside is that the issue has confused many into thinking that fermented foods alone can heal autoimmune disorders and resolve gut imbalance problems. This confusion is compounded by research which has shown that one serving of fermented vegetables was equal to an entire bottle of a high potency probiotic (1).
The problem, however, is that fermented foods, while potent, do not contain the correct type and therapeutic strength probiotics necessary to destroy pathogenic bacteria, viruses and fungi that have taken up residence within the intestines. Fermented foods contain lactic acid based probiotics, in other words, strains like Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus that do not aggressively attack pathogens.
Fermented foods are great for maintenance of gut health, but not strong enough by themselves to destroy the dominating pathogens in the gut of a person suffering from autoimmune disease to re-establish a beneficial balance of microbes and heal/seal the gut wall that is leaking toxins into the bloodsteam.
What about kefir which is much stronger than most fermented foods, containing upwards of 30 beneficial bacteria and yeasts to combat gut pathogens (2)?
Science has shown milk kefir (not water kefir) to be much stronger than yogurt and other fermented foods because it contains strains that are able to colonize the intestinal tract and don’t just pass through with temporary benefit. Some of the strains in kefir are aggressive in nature too, which means they attack and destroy pathogens reasserting dominance and control of the intestinal environment.
However, for a person with autoimmune disease, this is probably still not enough to get the job done. In addition, milk contains lactose which is a dissacharride and must be avoided for a temporary period of time while on gut healing protocols (3).
Soil Based Probiotics Needed to Resolve Autoimmunity
So what’s missing from fermented foods that a person on a gut healing diet really needs? According to Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome and creator of the GAPS Diet, the soil based probiotics, and in particular, the strain Bacillus subtilis are a very important piece of the gut healing puzzle.
Bacillus subtilis is a soil based organism discovered by German microbiologists during WWII. It was used to protect troops from dysentary and typhoid. Since that time, B. subtilis has been studied in depth all over Europe and Asia. Important subspecies to B. subtilis have been identified including:
- Bacillus licheniformis
- Bacillus cereus
- Bacillus brevis
- Bacillus mesentericus
- Bacillus pumilis
- Bacillus polymyxa
- Bacillus marcerans
These soil based probiotics are not endemic to humans and as such are resistant to stomach acid, most antibiotics, temperature changes and other degrading factors that can affect lactic acid based organisms. Soil based microbes are used in the waste management industry because they have an incredible ability to break down putrefying matter and suppress pathogenic microbes. Use of soil based probiotics have been found to be particularly effective for those suffering from allergies and other autoimmune diseases.
In short, use of soil based organisms (SBOs) is very important for clearing out the debris in the gut to prepare the way and lay the proper groundwork for the beneficial lactic acid based bacteria found in fermented foods and a normal human gut to thrive once again.
Does this mean fermented foods are not as important as soil based probiotics?
Fermented foods contain the type of probiotics that naturally thrive in a healthy human gut. They are a key part of the puzzle both in healing the gut and maintaining its health long term.
However, if your gut is currently imbalanced and/or you are suffering from autoimmune disease or gastrointestinal disorders, you really need the help of soil based probiotics to help resolve the situation. The lactic acid based probiotics in fermented foods need a cleaning crew consisting of powerful soil based organisms to come through and clean up the mess before they can effectively take over dominance once again.
How Best to Get Soil Based Probiotics into Your Diet?
A therapeutic strength probiotic is the best way to get soil based probiotics like B. subtilis into your diet. Drinking water from wells and streams works too, as does eating unwashed plant matter (vegetables, herbs, fruits, seeds) that is freshly picked. This is the traditional way humans used to get beneficial exposure to SBOs, but this is no longer practical in our polluted world where water filtration is a necessity in most cases.
High quality brands of probiotics which all contain B. subtilis and/or other strains of SBOs include (there may be some others):
I personally use Bio-Kult and Prescript Assist and rotate their use to widen exposure to a variety of SBO strains. We take a probiotic containing soil based organisms in our family even though we are fortunate to enjoy good digestive health and no autoimmune disease because it is hard to get regular exposure to SBOs in our polluted world in a fashion similar to what traditional cultures enjoyed in their pristine, natural environments.
Dr. Campbell-McBride MD writes that most probiotic brands on the market are not strong enough nor contain the soil based probiotic strains necessary to break down putrefaction and destroy pathogens to allow successful recolonization of the gut with beneficial microbes. Even worse, many brands of probiotics do not contain the strains listed on the label or have the claimed bacterial strength.
To avoid the problem of probiotic label fudging, make sure the brand you select is reputable and can deliver the results you need. Hint: if a probiotic brand needs refrigeration, skip it. Soil based probiotics do not need refrigeration to maintain potency.
After all, you’re going to all this trouble and inconvenience to rebalance your gut via the GAPS, AIP or SCD diets, so why cut corners with the probiotic and threaten the success of the process? Be sure to enlist the aggressive support of soil based probiotics so that your fermented foods have the best chance possible to help heal your gut.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist