When you have an autoimmune condition you’re often searching for simple solutions that can help you feel better.
Your gut health is one of the biggest influencers when it comes to your autoimmune disease (even if your condition or symptoms aren’t gut related).
A well-known autoimmune researcher, Alessio Fasano, MD, suggests that three things must be present for an autoimmune condition to develop: a genetic predisposition (or a family history of autoimmune disorders), a trigger (like stress, an infection or a toxin), and a leaky gut. (1)
Therefore, if you want to slow down or even reverse your autoimmune disease you must heal your digestive tract and your leaky gut.
A simple way to improve gut health is to add fermented foods to your diet. The beneficial bacteria that are in fermented foods influence and improve your gut health — and they can help heal a leaky gut.
Additionally, good bacteria also help your immune system, your ability to digest and absorb nutrients, balance blood sugar, improve mood, and they’re also good at getting rid of toxins.
Fermented foods are an essential part of healing when you have an autoimmune condition. Including them in your diet may be one of the most important things you do for your health.
Here are 4 ways that fermented foods will help you heal your body if you have an autoimmune disease.
#1: Fermented Foods Help Heal A Leaky Gut.
One of the root causes of a leaky gut is dysbiosis (or an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria in your gut). (2)
Harmful gut bacteria produce toxins called lipopolysaccharides (LPS) which directly damage the lining of your digestive tract increasing your susceptibility to a leaky gut. On the other hand, beneficial bacteria crowd out the harmful bacteria (thus reducing the toxic LPS). Additionally, they strengthen the cells that line your digestive tract. (3, 4)
Inflammation in your digestive tract contributes to both a leaky gut and autoimmune conditions. One inflammatory chemical, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), has been correlated with many autoimmune conditions — such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, it’s been suggested that TNF-α directly causes a leaky gut to develop. (5, 6)
Good bacteria make chemicals that block the production of TNF-α which may help reverse the symptoms and inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases.
The trillions of bacteria in fermented foods help reverse and prevent dysbiosis, inflammation, and a leaky gut.
#2: Fermented Foods Improve Your Nutrition.
Nutrient deficiencies are very common in those with autoimmune conditions. This can be caused by poor dietary intake of highly nutritious foods and/or inadequate digestion due to a leaky gut. Beneficial bacteria help you make, digest and absorb nutrients and vitamins that are essential to your health. (7)
Healthy bacteria play an important role in helping you make vitamin K and B-vitamins. Beneficial bacteria make about 75% of the vitamin K your body needs with the rest coming from your diet. Gut bacteria also make several essential B-vitamins such as: riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), biotin (B7), folate (B9) and vitamin B12. Studies show that dysbiosis can severely affect our nutrient status of these B-vitamins. (8, 9)
Another benefit of fermented foods is that the fermentation process itself actually helps break down foods so you can access the nutrients better. For example, fermentation may help you digest and absorb more zinc and iron from the food you eat. (10)
Beneficial bacteria also digest fiber from your food into short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s). These SCFA’s have several roles in the body ranging from nourishing the lining of the intestines to helping with the way our body makes energy. Even more remarkable, SCFA’s increase glutathione in the cells of the intestine. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant which aids the body in detoxification. (11, 12)
#3: Fermented Foods Help Your Body With Detoxification.
Toxins are known to trigger the development autoimmune diseases and worsen the symptoms. On your road to better health, you’ll want to reduce your exposures to toxins and help your body detoxify what it’s exposed to.
Beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods are powerhouses in helping your body with detoxification. As mentioned, they aid in the production of glutathione (a potent antioxidant) but they also help breakdown specific toxins removing them from the body.
For example, heavy metals have been correlated with many autoimmune conditions. Studies show lactobacillus found in probiotics and fermented foods can potentially bind heavy metals which reduces their ability to be absorbed into the body. (13, 14)
Furthermore, it’s been suggested that glyphosate (the active chemical found in Roundup) may trigger certain autoimmune diseases — such as Celiac disease, Crohn’s, and ulcerative colitis. Preliminary research shows that a specific type of bacteria, Acetobacter, are able to breakdown glyphosate in soil. Although further studies are needed, it’s been suggested that Acetobacter bacteria may potentially breakdown glyphosate in human tissue. (15, 16)
Here’s the cool part. Studies show the dominant bacteria found in kombucha is Acetobacter (the same bacteria that breakdown glyphosate in the soil). Kombucha may help us breakdown this toxin thus reducing its harmful effects. (17)
As research continues to emerge it’s likely that there will continue to be strong connections between a healthy gut microbiome and detoxification.
#4: Fermented Foods Help Modulate Your Immune System.
The bacteria in your gut is intimately connected with your immune system. It’s estimated that up to 80% of your immune system is found in your digestive tract and your gut bacteria directly regulate, stimulate and modulate the gut-immune connection. (18)
Good bacteria trigger mechanisms that lower inflammation and help you prevent autoimmune disease. In addition to lowering the inflammatory protein TNF-α (mentioned above) the beneficial bacteria influence immune cells that reduce your chances of developing autoimmune disease.
For example, your immune system makes different kinds of T cells which can either start or stop inflammation in your body. Once such cell, a T-regulatory cell, helps you “regulate” your immune system by helping you to maintain self-tolerance. This means your immune system won’t mount an immune response against your own tissue (which is how you develop autoimmune disease). If you don’t have enough T-regulatory cells you’re at higher risk of developing autoimmune disease. (19)
Research shows that lactobacillus bacteria — which is commonly found in fermented foods — help increase the number of T-regulatory cells (thus, reducing the chance of autoimmunity in your body). They may also decrease the risk of developing additional autoimmune conditions if you already have one. (20)
A Few Tips to Get You Started.
If you’re just starting to introduce fermented foods into your diet it’s best to go slow. Start with a forkful a day and see how you feel. You may notice some gas or bloating which usually goes away as your body adjusts. If you notice symptoms, eat smaller portions and slowly build up.
Here’s an important thing to note. Be sure to eat a variety of fermented foods as different foods have different types of bacteria and health benefits.
Fermented Foods Include:
- Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
- Fermented vegetables (like cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower, beets and garlic)
- Tempeh (fermented soy)
- Kimchi (mixture of fermented vegetables)
- Miso (fermented soy)
- Natto (fermented soybeans)
- Kefir (a drinkable fermented yogurt)
- Kombucha (a fermented tea)
- Coconut Yogurt (fermented coconut milk)
Read food labels and look for products that contain “active cultures”. Some fermented foods may have been pasteurized or heated during their production which will kill the beneficial bacteria. Pickled foods are not necessarily fermented, either.
Fermented foods can be expensive. Thankfully, you don’t need to consume large quantities — so a jar of fermented pickles can last you several weeks. You can also make your own fermented foods. There are plenty of books and resources to get you started.
Some Words of Caution.
Most people benefit from eating fermented foods. However, fermented foods are high in histamine so if you have a histamine intolerance you may have trouble breaking down the histamine in these foods.
Additionally, if you have a yeast overgrowth (like Candida) or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrown) you may notice your symptoms getting worse after you eat fermented foods. You may need to clean up your gut first and then use fermented foods to maintain your healthy microbiome.
If you feel worse after eating fermented foods or if you have one of these conditions, check-in with your healthcare provider.
Fermented foods may help heal your body. They have quite a few health benefits including: healing your digestive tract, enhancing your immune system, helping with detoxification, and increasing your nutritional status.
Start slow and try a variety of fermented foods.
When your gut heals you’ll feel better. You’ll have fewer symptoms and you’ll start to feel like yourself again. And, you’ll be slowing down or even reversing autoimmunity in your body.
Have you included fermented foods in your diet? What’s been your experience? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.