The use of fermented foods by ancestral cultures to preserve food, enhance nutritional value, and protect health goes back thousands of years and spans the globe. The practice served to significantly bolster immunity and increase the longevity of traditional societies. Consumption of these probiotic rich foods introduced a constant stream of beneficial bacteria into the gut on a daily basis. This regular infusion of helpful microbes improved digestion and nutrient absorption, discouraged pathogenic activity, and maintained top-notch intestinal health.
An often overlooked source of very powerful, beneficial microbes by traditional societies included the ingestion of soil based probiotics. This occurred via pure, unfiltered water from streams, rivers, and lakes and exposure to clean, nutrient-rich dirt.
Foods commonly fermented by cultures around the world include:
- Raw milk (all inhabited continents)
- Vegetables (all inhabited continents)
- Beans (Asia)
- Fish (Korea, Sweden, Japan, Russia, North America)
- Meats (Europe and the Middle East)
- Cereal grains (Africa, Europe, and South America)
The Russian scientist Ilia Metchnikoff began to study probiotics for the very first time in the late 1800s. He noticed that the people of Bulgaria who regularly consumed fermented milk enjoyed great health. Many also lived to unusually old age.
Working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Metchnikoff isolated the first probiotic – Lactobacillus bulgaricus. We now know that this is one of the main beneficial microbes in yogurt.
He used this bacterium in his scientific trials, and for a time, it became a very popular health supplement in Europe. The discovery of antibiotics in 1928 and their widespread adoption after the Second World War significantly reduced interest in the subject, however. Sadly, the scientific research into probiotics was mostly forgotten for a time.
The last 20 years or so has witnessed a massive resurgence in interest in the subject of probiotics for human and animal health. These helpful microbes not only improve symptoms, but in some cases completely heal a wide variety of gastrointestinal disorders.
Investigation into the use of probiotics as part of the treatment regimen for other health problems shows promise as well. In particular, they are beneficial for autoimmune disorders of all kinds – gastrointestinal or not.
As the public has caught on about the value of probiotics for healing the gut and resolving problems with autoimmunity, interest in fermented foods has soared. While this is a good thing, as fermented foods are definitely a key to maintaining optimal health, the downside is that the issue has confused many into thinking that fermented foods alone can heal autoimmune disorders and resolve gut imbalance problems. This confusion is compounded by research which demonstrated that one serving of fermented vegetables equals an entire bottle of a high potency probiotic (1).
The problem, however, is that fermented foods, while potent, do not contain the correct type and therapeutic strength probiotics necessary to destroy pathogenic bacteria, viruses and fungi that have taken up residence within the intestines. Fermented foods contain lactic acid based probiotics. In other words, strains in fermented foods like Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus do not aggressively attack pathogens.
Fermented foods are great for maintenance of gut health. However, they are not strong enough by themselves to destroy the dominating pathogens in the gut of a person suffering from autoimmune disease. They do not contain the strains necessary to re-establish a beneficial balance of microbes and heal/seal the gut wall that is leaking toxins into the bloodsteam.
What about Kefir?
What about kefir which is much stronger than most fermented foods? Kefir properly fermented for 24 hours contains upwards of 30 beneficial bacteria and yeasts to combat gut pathogens including C. albicans. (2)
Science has shown milk kefir (not water kefir) to be much stronger than yogurt and other fermented foods. This article on yogurt vs kefir contains more information as does this article on water kefir vs milk kefir.
Kefir contains strains that are able to colonize the intestinal tract and don’t just pass through with temporary benefit. Some of the strains in kefir are aggressive in nature too. They are able to attack and destroy pathogens reasserting dominance and control of the intestinal environment.
However, for a person with autoimmune disease, this is probably still not strong enough to get the job done. In addition, milk contains lactose which is a dissacharride and must be avoided for a temporary period of time while on gut healing protocols. Some folks cannot consume milk kefir for allergy reasons. In those situations, coconut kefir can work, but again, some folks do not tolerate it well.
Soil Based Probiotics Needed to Resolve Autoimmunity
So what’s missing from fermented foods that a person on a gut healing diet really needs? According to Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome and creator of the GAPS Diet, soil based probiotics, and in particular, the strain Bacillus subtilis are a very important piece of the gut healing puzzle.
Bacillus subtilis is a soil based organism discovered by German microbiologists during WWII. It was used to protect troops from dysentary and typhoid. Since that time, B. subtilis has been studied in depth all over Europe and Asia. Important subspecies to B. subtilis have been identified including:
- Bacillus licheniformis
- Bacillus cereus
- Bacillus brevis
- Bacillus mesentericus
- Bacillus pumilis
- Bacillus polymyxa
- Bacillus marcerans
SBOs More Powerful than Lactic Acid Probiotics
These soil based probiotics are not endemic to humans. As such, they are resistant to stomach acid, most antibiotics, temperature changes and other degrading factors that can affect lactic acid based organisms. Soil based microbes are used in the waste management industry because they have an incredible ability to break down putrefying matter and suppress pathogenic microbes. Use of soil based probiotics have been found to be particularly effective for those suffering from allergies and other autoimmune diseases.
In short, use of soil based organisms (SBOs) is very important for clearing out the debris in the gut to prepare the way and lay the proper groundwork for the beneficial lactic acid based bacteria found in fermented foods and a normal human gut to thrive once again.
Does this mean fermented foods are not as important as soil based probiotics?
Fermented foods contain the type of probiotics that naturally thrive in a healthy human gut. They are a key part of the puzzle both in healing the gut and maintaining its health long term.
However, if your gut is currently imbalanced and/or you are suffering from autoimmune disease or gastrointestinal disorders, you really need the help of soil based probiotics to help resolve the situation. The lactic acid based probiotics in fermented foods need a cleaning crew consisting of powerful SBOs to come through and clean up the mess before they can effectively take over dominance once again.
How Best to Get Soil Based Probiotics into Your Diet?
A therapeutic strength probiotic is the best way to get soil based probiotics like B. subtilis into your diet. Drinking water from wells and streams works too. Eating unwashed plant matter (vegetables, herbs, fruits, seeds) that is freshly picked is also helpful. These are the traditional ways humans got beneficial exposure to SBOs. Unfortunately, it is no longer practical in our polluted world. In most locations, for example, whole house water filtration is a necessity.
High quality brands of probiotics I’ve personally vetted which all contain B. subtilis and/or other strains of SBOs include (there may be some others):
I personally use Bio-Kult and Prescript Assist and rotate their use to widen exposure to a variety of SBO strains. Our family takes a probiotic containing soil based organisms even though we are fortunate to enjoy good digestive health.
This includes all three kids who have never been on even one round of antibiotics.
Why is that?
It is really hard to get regular exposure to SBOs in our polluted world in a fashion similar to what traditional cultures enjoyed in their pristine, natural environments!
Dr. Campbell-McBride MD writes that most probiotic brands on the market are not strong enough nor do they contain the soil based strains necessary to break down gut matter putrefaction and destroy pathogens. This is critically necessary to allow successful recolonization of the gut with beneficial lactic acid-based microbes in fermented foods. Even worse, many brands of probiotics do not contain the strains listed on the label or have the claimed bacterial strength.
What to do?
How to Ensure Probiotic Strength
To avoid the problem of probiotic label fudging, make sure the brand you select is reputable. You get what you pay for. A good quality SBO probiotic is not cheap. Hint: if a probiotic brand needs refrigeration, skip it. Soil based probiotics are hardy and do not need refrigeration to maintain potency.
After all, you’re going to all this trouble and inconvenience to rebalance your gut via GAPS, AIP or the Specific Carb diet. Why cut corners with the probiotic and threaten the success of the process? Be sure to enlist the aggressive support of soil based organisms. This way, you can be sure that your fermented foods have the best chance possible to heal your gut.
Choosing the Best Probiotic Supplement
Using Probiotics for Traveling to Help Keep You Well
How to Take Probiotics for Maximum Benefit
How Prebiotics Benefit Gut Health
The Perfect Trifecta for Intestinal Health
5 Most Common GAPS Diet Mistakes