Probiotics and Brain Health, Why Fermented Foods Make Us Feel So Good!
We have all heard about how probiotics help with immunity and digestion. And most of us remember our first time trying a quality fermented food, that first spoonful of delicious live-culture kraut, or first swig of a gourmet kombucha, and the immediate feeling of “WOW! I feel great!” that followed. Why do we feel so good when we eat quality fermented foods? Well, science has been busy lately proving the connection between our mood and our microbes, the connection between our brains and our bacteria.
Growing Our Internal Microbe Garden
Our bodies are like coral, an assemblage of life forms all living together. As adults we all carry around two to five pounds of bacteria, ten times more microbial cells than human cells, also known as our “microbiota”. Since we are the homes for these microbes, wether or not we know or care we are the owners of our “microbiome”, defined as our microorganisms, the genomes they contain, and the interactions between these microbes and our human physiology.
Most of these bacteria live in our gut, which is also home to our second brain, the enteric nervous system. “What, we have a second brain?” you may ask? Yes we do, and it turns out that the enteric brain and the microbes it interacts with may be the ones really running most of the show when it comes to our mood and dietary choices.
Our second brain, which is home to our “gut” feelings, operates separately from our primary brain. It consists hundreds of millions of neurons contained in our intestines that are intricately connected to our mood and our microbes; the integrating center of our entire central nervous system. Science is now showing the type of microbes you contain -or do not contain- may be influencing the way you process stress and emotions and can be the difference between an even-keeled calm, happy, and centered mood, and one of depression, anxiety, and hyper-reactivity.
Our internal microbe garden contains thousands of microbe species, and new research indicates the right combinations can affect our mental health. Previous studies have revealed that in mice, changes in gut microbe colonies appear to ease feelings of anxiousness and help control the levels of cortisol -a potent stress hormone related to inflammation- from coursing through the body. In general, the more cortisol you have, the more stressed out and unhealthy you are. Conversely, the less cortisol we produce, the more human growth hormone we produce, the “anti-aging/good mood” hormone attributed to longevity and disease-free living. New human studies are being conducted all over the world that are showing the connection between probiotics and increased ability to handle stress and retain a good mood.
So what are the “right” combinations of microbes? Most researchers are inclined to say they include the microbes found in probiotic fermented foods. Looking to history, before we started eating mostly pasteurized and highly-processed foods, every culture had its own repertoire of fermented foods that contained the healthy probiotics.
When Louis Pasteur discovered the connection between disease and microbes, the inclination to kill all microbial life has led to over a century of attempting to end disease through killing microbes in food and our homes. Well it is turning out that our love affair with anti-biotics, pasteurized foods, and anti-microbial soap may be doing us way more harm than good.
Most of our initial biome comes from our mother, babies are microbe magnets that adopt the microbiome of their mother during vaginal birth and from the microbes in breast milk. This initial transmission of the mother’s microbiome is important for the baby’s immune system to learn what is a “good” symbiotic microbe versus a pathogenic, diesease-causing “bad” microbe. The fact many babies are no longer delivered vaginally and almost immediately we throw antibiotics at our children for every sniffle or sneeze may be injuring the early development of brain and immunity and the “wisdom” to delineate between healthy and unhealthy microbes, altering the make-up of the microbiome for life.
For this reason researchers are now looking at the microbiomes of indigenous peoples (all of which have WAY less disease statistically than modern humans) still living without any modern medicine or pasteurization. It turns out their ancient microbiomes are WAY more diverse than the modern human and may contian the wisdom of the ancients and a pathway for us all to return back to the microbiomes we are intended to have, the diverse healthy microbial life humans co-evolved with for millenia.
Probiotics in Fermented Foods
Until the pre-historic miracle microbiome pill is developed, research shows it would behoove us all to intentionally innoculate our systems in the historic way by eating as many live-culture probiotic fermented foods as possible.
These are the some of the friendly probiotics we can get from foods:
- Lactobacillus acidophilaus
- From yogurts, known to suppress proliferation of pathogenic bacteria, found mostly in small intestine.
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus ( and Lactobacillus casei, Streptocuccus thermophilus)
- Used as starter culture for yogurts, enhances digestibility of dairy and synthesizes Vit B, inhibits pathogens, including the common Strep infections.
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Found in dairy ferments but also in fermented vegetable products, especially Umeboshi plums, daikon radishes, and other vegateble kraut ferments, inhibits pathogens..
- Lactobacillus salivarius
- Probiotic known to occur in the human mouth and intestines, inhibits pathogens..
- Lactobacillus sporogenes
- Probiotic known to survive the acids in the stomach, inhibits pathogens.
- Bacillus laterosporus
- Soil based probiotic microbe found commonly in healthy adult digestive tracts, especially humans who consume large amounts of fruits and veggies.
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Probiotic common in healthy human digestive tracts and the vagina, the absence of which is associated with chronic constipation.
- Bifidobacterium breve, infantis, and longum
- Probiotics known as important in infant intestines, often presnt in the vagina, predominant in infant intestines.
- Saccharomyces boulardii
- A healthy probiotic yeast, which helps inhibit other pathogenic yeasts (Candida spp). As with other probiotic fungi, assists the body in fighting Candida et al pathogenic infections.
Since the probiotic microbes come ultimately as starter-cultures from soil-based microbes, choosing dairy and vegetables for fermenting makes most sense to source from ceritfied-organic and biodynamic farms, which have highest soil ecosystem diversity, reference bionutrient.org.
Organic and biodynamic farms must cultivate the diversity in the soil ecosystem such that the plants are healthy enough to not need herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers to have immune function strong enough to fight off the pests and competition from weeds. As the Weston Price Foundation explains, “All health begins with the soil”.
Upcoming classes for more information on this topic:
Jan 14, 2015, 530-630PM Lucky’s Market, Columbus, OH
Feb 13 and 14, 2015 During the OEFFA Conference
March 26, 2015 Fermenting Veggies Made Easy, Local Roots Market, Wooster, Ohio
April 9, 2015 Fermenting Veggies Made Easy, City Folks Farm Shop, Columbus, OH
Andy Reed has extensive experience in culinary arts and the medicinal values of the healing energetics of foods based on Asian Healing Food Energetics. Andy is the owner of the OEFFA-certified organic Krazy Kraut Fermented Foods which are all for sale at Lucky’s Market and many other locations in Columbus and throughout Ohio. Krazy Krauts are four varieties of live-culture probiotic-rich fermented nutrient-dense vegetable and spice combinations made in Columbus, Ohio from vegetables grown by small Ohio organic family farms. Andy is also a licensed acupuncturist with a specialty of oncology and Asian healing food energetics. Find Krazy Kraut.
References for further reading:
From January 5 – 11, Columbus Underground is featuring our Health & Wellness Week series, brought to you by the The Fitness Loft. The Fitness Loft is more than just a gym – it’s a visionary approach to developing a sustainable community and creating an atmosphere that encourages people to lead a healthier life. Our holistic concept includes biometric wellness screening, Technogym exercise equipment that records progress, free group fitness and nutrition classes, an on-site Registered Dietitian, and much more to give you a truly unique wellness experience. Located at 625 Parsons Avenue, Columbus, OH 43206.