A new study from Stanford University found a diet rich in fermented foods boosts the diversity of gut microbes and decreases molecular signs of inflammation.
The study is published in Cell and was conducted by Justin Sonnenburg et al.
In the study, 36 healthy adults were assigned to a 10-week diet that included either fermented or high-fiber foods. The two diets resulted in different effects on the gut microbiome and the immune system.
The team found eating foods such as yogurt, kefir, fermented cottage cheese, kimchi and other fermented vegetables, vegetable brine drinks, and kombucha tea led to an increase in overall microbial diversity, with stronger effects from larger servings.
In addition, four types of immune cells showed less activation in the fermented-food group. The levels of 19 inflammatory proteins measured in blood samples also decreased.
One of these proteins, interleukin 6, has been linked to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, and chronic stress.
The team says microbiota-targeted diets can change immune status, providing a promising avenue for decreasing inflammation in healthy adults.
This finding was consistent across all participants in the study who were assigned to the higher fermented food group.
The team also found, by contrast, none of these 19 inflammatory proteins decreased in participants assigned to a high-fiber diet rich in legumes, seeds, whole grains, nuts, vegetables, and fruits. On average, the diversity of their gut microbes also remained stable.
The data suggest that increased fiber intake alone over a short time period is insufficient to increase microbiota diversity.
A wide body of evidence has shown that diet shapes the gut microbiome, which can affect the immune system and overall health.
According to the team, low microbiome diversity has been linked to obesity and diabetes.
The researchers focused on fiber and fermented foods due to previous reports of their potential health benefits.
While high-fiber diets have been associated with lower rates of mortality, the consumption of fermented foods can help with weight maintenance and may decrease the risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
The results also show that greater fiber intake led to more carbohydrates in stool samples, pointing to incomplete fiber degradation by gut microbes.
These findings are consistent with other research suggesting that the microbiome of people living in the industrialized world is depleted of fiber-degrading microbes.
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