Fermented Food Facts for the Autoimmune

It’s very recent that fermented foods have begun to disappear from our plate. Modern pickles and sauerkraut are made with vinegar instead of the traditional method of lacto-fermentation using salt. Bread and pasta are made with commercial yeast instead of being naturally leavened with wild yeast (sourdough). Wine, beer and cheeses are being pasteurized — killing off all the good bacteria we so desperately need to maintain health.

Because the intestinal microbiota can regulate immune responses outside the gut, the absence of the “right” gut microbes may conceivably shift the balance toward disease in individuals predisposed to autoimmune diseases. Our gut microbiome today may be threatened by a combination of heavily processed foods, frequent treatment with antibiotics, and advances in hygiene and sanitization.

“In the normal scheme of things, we’d never have to think twice about replenishing the bacteria that allow us to digest food. But since we’re living with antibiotic drugs and chlorinated water and antibacterial soap and all these factors in our contemporary lives that I’d group together as a ‘war on bacteria,’ if we fail to replenish [good bacteria], we won’t effectively get nutrients out of the food we’re eating.” – Sandor Katz

The current prevalence of autoimmune diseases – such as Hashimoto’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory bowel disease have been linked to a lack of good bacteria in the gut.

Probiotics and Fermented Food Bacteria “Strengthen” Your Immune System 

A common perspective is that probiotics and fermented foods “strengthen” your immune system. Let me more accurately rephrase this. Probiotics and fermented foods ‘stimulate’ your immune system. Fermented food bacteria do so less than concentrated probiotic supplements. Specifically the TH1 portion which is responsible for autoimmune conditions when it becomes unregulated.

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The effectiveness of probiotics and fermented foods is all relative to a normal “healthy” gut. The healthier your gut is the more beneficial they can be. Under conditions of chronic intestinal inflammation, commensal bacteria (probiotics, intestinal and fermented food bacteria) perpetuate chronic immune-mediated inflammation. The presence of autoimmune inflammatory mediators (cytokines, chemokines, neurotransmitters) initiates and perpetuates uncontrolled inflammatory processes, which results in a dysregulated mucosal immune response to commensal bacteria.

Stimulating the TH1 immune response when the autoimmune condition has your body in a TH1 Dominant immune status will push the immune response uncontrolled into the more destructive TH17 immune response.

Fermented Food Facts:

  • Fermented food bacteria are mostly of transient nature, with few actually colonizing the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Are capable of causing disease in autoimmune or immunocompromised individuals.

A complex and diverse collection of bacteria performs sugar and lactic acid fermentations in food products. Depending on the fermentable food (dairy, meat, vegetable etc.) as well as on the species composition of the bacteria, specific combinations are produced that confer unique flavor, texture, and taste to each product.

For their good taste—and your good health—favor living fermented foods like unpasteurized sauerkraut and quality yogurt or kefir. This is how they help keep you healthy.

  • Unprocessed fermented foods stimulate the immune system.
  • The flora in living cultured foods form a “living shield” that covers the small intestine’s inner lining and helps inhibit pathogenic organisms including E.coli, salmonella and an unhealthy overgrowth of Candida (yeast).
  • Some fermented foods create antioxidants (glutathione and superoxide dismustase) that scavenge free radicals which are a cancer precursor.
  • Fermenting transforms hard-to-digest lactose from milk to the more easily digested lactic acid. It neutralizes the anti-nutrients found in many foods including the phytic acid found in all grains and the trypsin-inhibitors in soy.
  • Fermentation generates new nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, digestive aids and the trace mineral GTF chromium.

Bacterial populations within such “fermented food microbiota” are often of environmental origin, they persist alive in foods ready for consumption, eventually reaching the gastrointestinal tract where they can interact with the resident gut microbiota of the host. Although the fermented food microbiota are mostly of transient nature, with few actually colonizing the gastrointestinal tract, they can greatly contribute to human health, as several species within the food microbiota also display probiotic properties. Such an interplay between food and gut microbiota underlines the importance of the microbiological quality of fermented foods, as the crowded environment of the gut is also an ideal site for genetic exchanges among bacteria.

Selection and spreading of antibiotic resistance genes in foodborne bacteria has gained increasing interest in the past decade, especially in light of the potential transferability of antibiotic resistance genes to opportunistic pathogens, natural inhabitants of the human gut but capable of acquiring virulence in immunocompromised individuals.[1]

Fermented food would be a better choice for those with autoimmune conditions. Eaten in smaller portions will enhance digestion without overstimulating the immune system than concentrated probiotics. Probiotics can be added when gut inflammation is under control. There are multiple factors to consider as to when the appropriate time occurs. Too many to discuss here.

Autoimmune is Immunocompromised

A person is said to be immunocompromised when their immune system is incapable of working at full capacity. The immune system is how the body fights off diseases and protects itself against new infections, so someone who is immunocompromised will usually get sick more often, stay sick longer, and be more vulnerable to different types of infections. An autoimmune disease is different in that the immune system is compromised and attacking “self” – parts of you. It’s an immune system gone awry.

There are many conditions that can lead to a person becoming immunocompromised. Chemotherapy and certain cancers can also cause a person to become immunocompromised, as can any of the autoimmune diseases, which are diseases where the immune system attacks the body it is supposed to defend.

Immune deficiencies can also be caused by certain medications, stress, old age, poor nutrition, and other conditions. Depending on the reason a person is immunocompromised, the deficiencies in their immune system may be temporary or permanent. In many cases it is possible for a person’s immune system to return to nearly full function, and if it doesn’t, there are therapies available that can help individuals fight off certain infections. There are also degrees of immune deficiency. Some people simply take longer to fight off common infections, whereas others must be protected from any disease exposures — because even a normally mild condition could put their life at risk.

As it is with many things, a good thing at the wrong time can cause problems beyond our control. Let me help you return your immune system to the level it should be.

Concerned about your Health?

Fill out the Thyroid Health Assessment Form

Fill out the 2100 GIFX – Stool & Bowel Assessment Form

Send in the Thyroid Health Assessment Form or 2100 GIFX – Stool & Bowel Assessment Form to schedule a free 15 minute consultation.

Call today! 530-615-4083


[1] Devirgiliis C, Barile S, Perozzi G. Antibiotic resistance determinants in the interplay between food and gut microbiota. Genes Nutr. 2011 Aug;6(3):275-84. Epub 2011 Apr 28.

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