Fermentation and Gut Health Glossary

Commensal
Bacteria

Although friendly bacteria inhabiting our bodies are usually referred to as commensal, research in this field suggests that the relationship between our gut microbiota and us is not merely commensal, but rather a mutualistic “I help you, you help me” kind of relationship.

This microecosystem, which is a direct consequence of the mutualism between the host and its microbiota, is fundamental for the maintenance of the homeostasis (equilibrium) of a healthy individual. Commensal bacteria provide the host with essential nutrients. They metabolize indigestible compounds, defend against colonization of opportunistic pathogens and contribute to the development of the intestinal architecture as well as stimulation of the immune system among others. Conversely, the host provides the bacteria with nutrients and a stable environment. Both host and microorganisms have then adapted to each other in a particular case of microevolution to maintain the benefits that this mutualism confers.

Dysbiosis

Dysbiosis is the imbalance of microbial communities within the body. It can happen in the gut, skin, nose and vagina. This can manifest in higher occurrence of certain bacteria, lack of occurrence of bacteria and lack of diversity. Changes in diet, antibiotic use and stress are among the biggest factors that can lead to dysbiosis. Often dysbiosis is onset by some combination of these factors and predispositions may also play a role.

Dysbiosis is a condition that affects many people, whether they are aware of it or not. Is commonly associated with GI related conditions such as SIBO, IBS, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis and even Autism and Obesity. And though it is a common condition, its effect on the body is still largely misunderstood. Common symptoms of dysbiosis include: Nausea, upset stomach, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, fatigue, difficulty urinating, halitosis (bad breath), chest pain, rash, trouble concentrating, anxiety, depression.

Fat(s)

The equation is simple: there are good fats and bad fats we should be consuming mostly the good ones. Approximately 60% of our brain is fat. The good fat in our brain matter creates ALL the cell membranes in our body! Fats are vital to a healthy diet and optimal function of the human body. They help carry, absorb, and store the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) in our bloodstream, they also help regulate our body temperature, they insulate and protect our organs.

Omega-3 fatty acids are the good guys. They are great for mental clarity, concentration and focus and they help prevent cardio vascular disease. Now let’s talk about the bad guys, saturated and hydrogenated fats or trans-fats. They have zero nutritional value because these fats are ultra-processed. They increase your bad cholesterol and decrease your good one, they increase the amount of triglycerides in your system and the amount of plaque in your blood vessels. Needless to say you should avoid them as much as possible.

Fiber

Fiber helps us stabilise our blood sugar levels, manage our weight (by helping us feel full after meals), fight diseases and keep our microbes happy. Ideally, we should be consuming between 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are all high-fiber foods but like everything in Nutrition, things are a bit more complex than that.

There are 2 basic types of food fiber: Insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water and is not fermented by the gut’s bacteria and Soluble fiber, which does dissolve in water and is fermented by the colon’s microorganisms or bacteria.We can further classify insoluble fiber into two types: fermentable and non-fermentable. Non-fermentable insoluble fiber is known primarily as a bulking agent, and consuming adequate insoluble fiber keeps people regular. Fermentable insoluble fiber — such as resistant starch —produces the same healthy gasses and acids in the large intestine that soluble fiber does.

Gut

Your gut is a big deal. It’s a 9m-long organ that goes from your mouth all the way down to… yes, your anus and would cover an entire tennis court if laid out flat. It makes up roughly 70% of your immune system and contains 1.5kg to 2kg of bacteria – more than the weight of your brain. Your gut can influence the chemistry of your mood, emotions, immune system and long-term health.

The gut doesn’t need the brain’s input, it can act as it’s own brain. Not even the heart can pull that off. There are more than 100 million brain cells in your gut, that’s more neurones than are found in the spinal cord or peripheral nervous system – Your gut has its own nervous system – The enteric nervous system controls digestion and elimination and functions all on its own – There’s an information highway from your gut to your brain called the vagus nerve. Up to 90 percent of its fibers carry information from the gut to the brain, rather than the other way around. In other words, the brain interprets gut signals as emotions, so you really should trust your gut – Most of you serotonin is in your gut, 95 percent to be precise. It’s no wonder that diet, medications, and antibiotics can wreak havoc on one’s mood.

Inflammation

We are quite used to hearing about acute inflammation which occurs when we break an arm or stub a toe, but it is also possible to get chronic inflammation throughout your inner body. This type of inflammation occurs when the immune system fails to eliminate the problem, leaving a lingering state of inflammation that can last for months or years.

Chronic inflammation can still be activated even if the initial threat has been eliminated, and even when there is no apparent injury or disease. This heightened inflammation can be related to poor nutrition, stress, ageing, environmental toxins, bacterial or viral infection. Chronic inflammation has been shown to play a central role in the development of some of the most challenging diseases of our time such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 1 diabetes and cancer.

Lactic Acid
Fermentation

Lactic acid is a chemical by-product of anaerobic respiration — the process by which cells produce energy without oxygen around. Just like our cells, certain types of bacteria also produce lactic acid in yes, you guessed it, lacto-fermented foods under the exact same anaerobic conditions – this is what we call anaerobic fermentation or fermentation without oxygen. We can also find them in our gut – lactic acid bacteria found in the human gut resemble the ones typically found in fermented foods and beverages, with some patterns shared within global populations.

Some lactic acid bacteria present in fermented foods may contribute to human health in a manner similar to probiotics – they can enhance lactose digestion, stimulate the immune system,  improve nutritional value of food, control of intestinal infections, control of some types of cancer, and control of cholesterol levels. Lactic acid is also a biopreservative that helps control the pH of a food to prolong its shelf life and prevent it from spoiling and it’s what makes fermented foods taste deliciously sour.

Microbes

Microbe generally means anything small like bacteria, yeast and fungi. They’ve inhabited our bodies for millions of years and without them, we wouldn’t exist. 9 out of 10 of the individual cells in our body are bacteria and 99% of the body’s microbiome is found in the gut, about 3kg in weight to be precise. Microbes work really hard to keep us healthy – they help us digest our food, regulate our immune system, they play a role in brain development, our appetite and even our emotions, they provide nutrients for our cells and prevent colonisation by harmful bacteria and viruses.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are basically just fibre. Our microbes love them, it’s their favourite food and they are totally necessary for healthy bacteria to grow and thrive in our gut. Prebiotics are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. Some of the best prebiotic rich foods are: chicory root, jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, barley, lentils, chickpeas, beans, oats, apples, flaxseeds, wheat bran and seaweed.

Increasing your intake of prebiotics helps to support immunity, digestive health, bone density, weight management, regularity and brain health. Now that’s a lot of goodness packed into a humble bunch of non-digestible food ingredients!

Psychobiotics

The word psychobiotic may sound like the latest sci-fi blockbuster, but psychobiotics are actually live microbes in the human body that have a beneficial, psychoactive (affecting the mind) effect on our mental state. Exciting new research shows that beneficial bacteria in our gut can have mind-altering effects on how we think, feel, react, and remember. They can help influence our mood and brain function in all these areas: Emotional reactivity / Cognitive health / Temporary stress and anxiety management / Mood.

According to recent studies, certain strains of probiotics—psychobiotics—seem to help ease temporary feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, most likely by communicating with the brain and producing important neurotransmitters like GABA (the “calming” chemical) and serotonin (the “happy” chemical). Research indicates that psychobiotics can also reduce levels of cortisol (the “stress” hormone), and increase levels of oxytocin (the “cuddle” hormone).

Resistant
Starch

Resistant starch is a carbohydrate that resist digestion in the small intestine and ferments in the large intestine. As the fibers ferment they act as a prebiotic and feed the good bacteria in the gut. There are several types of resistant starch, they are classified by their structure or source. More than one type of resistant starch can be present in a single food.

When starches are digested they typically break down into glucose. Because resistant starch is not digested in the small intestine, it doesn’t raise glucose. Gut health is improved as fermentation in the large intestine makes more good bacteria in the gut and healthy gut bacteria can improve glycemic control. Other benefits of resistant starch include increased feeling of fullness, treatment and prevention of constipation, decrease in cholesterol, and lower risk of colon cancer. Resistant starch is fermented slowly so it causes less gas than other fibers.

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