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November 11, 2016
By Susan Callahan, Contributing Columnist
So, you are in the grip of a bad day. Maybe you're really dispirited by
the elections or you are in the cross hairs of an unbelievably bad
relationship. You do what most of us do-- you eat and drink for
comfort. A quick grab of a bag of potato chips or some fries or a
burger always seems to hit the spot, right? I have long wondered why
fast food actually seems to cheer me up and now I know why.
I also know that, as soon as I finish those chips, I start to feel a little
better and then, not too long afterwards...not so great.
Now, scientists have found a remarkable connection between certain
kinds of fermented foods and your mood. People who eat these
fermented foods appear to be much more resistant to downswings in
mood, less anxious and less depressed.
The Strong Link Between Fermented Food and Your Mood
In the US, most of us have very little contact with fermented foods
other than beer, which is made by fermenting grains with yeast.
Studies have found that the more Western your society, the less likely
you are to consume actual fermented foods.
This was not always the case. We humans have long suspected that
fermented foods have powerful health benefits. Anthropologists
discovered evidence of intentionally fermented fruit, rice and honey in
Neolithic vessels dating from over 10,000 years ago, according to a
2004 study from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of
Archaeology and Anthropology.
Before we humans had refrigeration, we used fermentation to preserve
With the advent of refrigeration and chemical preservatives, we began
to eat fewer and fewer fermented foods.
And that may have been good for refrigerator manufacturers. But it
was definitely not good for our guts. The consequence of eating less
fermented food is that the natural environment of your gut has less
Here is some of the evidence of that. Thirty years ago in 1986, Dr.
Yoshimi Benno and other scientists from the Institute of Physical and
AChemcial Research in Mako Japan looked at the differences in the gut
bacteria of people living in rural Japan versus those living in Canada.
Examining the fecal content of the participants, the scientists were able
to determine that the Canadians, whose diets contained very few
fermented foods, were missing two types of gut bacteria ---
Bifidobacterium species and Lactobacilli.
By contrast, the Japanese diets produced gut environments that were
rich in these two types of bacteria. Overall, there was far greater
biodiversity in the gut environments of the rural Japanese than in the
urban dwellers of Canada.
So what? Some of us have guts with fewer varieties of bacteria. What
does it matter?
It turns out, that the biodiversity of your gut is quite important to your
emotional health and to your health in general.
Fermented Foods Improve Your Mood and Emotional Health
The idea that the natural bacteria in your gut somehow controls your
emotional state didn't occur to scientists until a smart group of from
Canada and the United States made the discovery. The studies were
conducted in 2011 to 2013, by Dr. Eva Selhub from Harvard Medical
School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, together with Dr. Alision Bested
of BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre in Vancouver and Dr. Alan
C. Logan of CAMNR Canada(Canadian College of Naturopathic
What these scientists found and others have confirmed is that your
intestinal barrier separating your gut from your blood is a very
complex, very selective, discriminating filter system, letting good
nutrients through the intestinal wall into your blood and keeping bad
toxins in your gut. They discovered that a Western diet, high in
saturated fat, preservatives, and sugar and other refined carbohydrates
undermines this intelligent wall system over time.
Fermented foods and non-Western diets help to preserve the integrity
of the intestinal barrier, keeping it from becoming too porous.
Fermented foods reduce the levels of a powerful compound called
This endotoxin is so powerful that even extremely small amounts of it in
your blood stream have been found to "provoke depressive
symptoms", the scientists found.
In addition to fending off this mood-altering toxin, fermented foods
also lower your risk for diabetes by improving insulin control.
Can You Boost the Biodiversity of Your Gut Quickly?
The good news is that changing the environment of your gut for the
better does not have to take years.
Scientists have succeeded in boosting the biodiversity of gut bacteria
by adding a single strain of bacteria from foods.
In 2009, scientists from the University of Turku in Finland gave a singe
drink of fermented oats to 66 elderly people for 6 months. Following
the study, the scientists found that drinking the fermented oats had
boosted the levels of Bifidobacterium bacteria significantly.
What's more, adding the fermented drink improved bowel movements
(less diarrhea and constipation) and immune systems.
In another experiment in 2007, scientists from Massey University in
New Zealand discovered that they could improve the gut environment
of elderly by giving them a probiotic (Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 )
added to 250 ml of skim milk.
"The administration of a single Bifidobacterium strain, one among a
genera commonly found in fermented dairy products, can increase the
intestinal quantity of completely separate Bifidobacterium species, and
What can you do at home if you don't happen to have a bottle of
You can simply eat less processed foods --hot dogs, cold cuts,
pepperoni, sliced white bread, potato chips, chicken patties and so on.
You cn add to your diet natural, unprocessed, non-sugary yogurt and
cheeses such as highly fermented, stinky French cheeses (my favorite is
Roquefort), buttermilk, pickled foods, and sauerkraut (which is
The more adventurous can search your natural food stores and ethnic
stores for Kefir (a fermented milk from goats, cows or sheep),
kombucha, miso, tempeh and natto.
And, if all else fails, you also can drink a moderate amount of beer.
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|Eating more fermented foods such as
sauerkraut can lift your mood.