The Healing Properties of Fermented Foods

[Daoist Internal Alchemy 道家内丹术]   

The Healing Properties of Fermented Foods

by Dr. Ted Nawalinski


The Healing Properties of Fermented Foods is a survey of more than two hundred research sources recently published by Traditional Chinese Culture Institute International, (  In this introductory article Dr. Nawalinski summarizes they key points of the paper for readers.  You can read the complete paper as a free PDF download with reference citations and a full bibliography.Fermented Foods2

Fermentation of food products refers to the anaerobic decomposition of carbohydrates, serendipitously yielding lactic acid (as in the production of yogurt and sauerkraut), ethanol (wine and beer), and carbon dioxide (the rising of bread). Yeasts (Saccaromyces) do the fermenting of grapes or grain in the production of wines and beers and degrade starch to produce the bubbles in rising bread.

Virtually every culture throughout history has had fermented foods;  some of these may seem quite bizarre and some are so common that we don’t even realize that chocolate, tea, coffee, salami, pickles, and soy sauce are among the items we eat daily that depend on lactic acid bacteria for taste and nutrition.

To appreciate fermented food, we need to appreciate the roles of the active agents – lactic acid (“probiotic”) bacteria – and one of their important products – vitamin K.

Probioticsprobiotic benefits

Probiotics can be taken as supplements to modify the human gut flora but, as with all foods, the components are best taken together. A lot of research has been done with one or a few bacterial species independent of any food product and the results of their activity are impressive.

As a tonic: Healthy workers taking a fermented dairy product had significantly fewer common infectious diseases, fewer sick days, and fewer days with fever.

Against infectious diseases:  HIV-infected children taking a formula containing Bifidobacterium bifidum and Streptococcus thermophilus showed an increase in immunoactive CD4 cells while the control group showed a decrease in cell count. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported area hospitals reducing in-house Clostridium difficile (‘C. diff’) infections with two servings of yogurt daily.

A three-month trial among 281 children who attend day care centers showed that those receiving a fermented milk product had significantly fewer upper respiratory tract infections compared to the placebo group.

Women with recurrent vaginitis reported improvement after using glycerol suppositories impregnated with Lactobacillus.  Even taking the probiotic orally alleviated symptoms because the gut flora is known to exert far-reaching effects outside the intestinal tract.

Cancer:  Recurrence rate for superficial bladder cancer was lower for subjects receiving freeze-dried Lactobacillus casei  than a control group taking a placebo.

Cardiovascular Health:  Powdered probiotic cell extracts significantly decreased systolic pressure, diastolic pressure and heart rate in hypertensive subjects.


Vitamin K

Vitamin K is found in dark leafy greens but the most important analog of the naphthaquinone complex is found in fermented foods or is produced by the anaerobic bacteria in your colon. Vitamin K

  • is necessary for the cascade of events leading to the clotting of blood after a wound
  • activates the protein osteocalcin for calcium deposition in bone and teeth
  • protects against deposition of lipids and white blood cells and the formation of calcium crystals that characterize atherosclerosis and can reverse calcification already present
  • supports brain sulfatides, whose decline with age is associated with age-related neurological degeneration
  • has powerful anti-carcinogenic properties that may make it useful in preventing or treating cancer


Real Foodsreal-food

It’s important to note that your intestinal flora is best balanced by the regular consumption of a variety of real fermented foods. Subjects totally deprived of all ferments developed a modified gut flora and a decreased immune response. It was not until they resumed a normal diet of a variety of ferments with both cultured and wild strains of LAB that the volunteers returned to pre-testing blood and fecal counts.There are hundreds of fermented foods to investigate.  Some of the benefits of a selected few of these foods may prompt you to investigate more exotic options for your menu.

Sauerkraut:  Fermentation of cabbage preserves anticarcinogenic isothiocyanates, which may be destroyed by high temperature cooking, as well as decreasing dangerous nitrates and nitrites.

Kimchi:  Lactic acid bacteria from kimchi inhibit growth of the serious food-borne pathogens Bacillus cereus, Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus, and improved asthma symptoms, pruritis, anaphylaxis, inflammation, and other allergic reactions in a mouse model.

In vitro, a component from kimchi, beta sitosterol, inhibited a vital gene for expressing cancer.

Kimchi bacteria reduced LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol in obesity-prone rats by inhibiting the differentiation of fat cells.

Lactobacillus brevis isolated from kimchi was found to degrade the organophosphorus pesticides chlorpyrifos, coumaphos, diazinon, methylparathion, and parathion.

Miso:  This tasty ferment from Japan makes a wonderful broth and is highly protective against breast cancer: two very large studies totalling 37,000 women followed for 25 years showed that the group eating the most miso had almost 50% less breast cancer, but even moderate consumption showed some protection.

Yogurt:  Studies in the US and the Netherlands showed yogurt to be protective against colorectal cancer. A French study showed a negative association between yogurt consumption and the risk of breast cancer.

Yogurt with live Lactobacillus acidophilus decreased the colonization of Candida in the rectum and vagina and reduced the infection rate in women with recurrent infections.

Natto:  You likely never heard of this fermented soybean food from Japan, but its active component, nattokinase, is unmatched in its ability to degrade the blood proteins which form fibrin clots. Regular consumption may help to clear the bloodstream of potentially dangerous deposits. Nattokinase also degrades the protein fibrils which comprise the amyloid strongly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

In spite of the wealth of research available on probiotics and fermented foods, many basic facts and mechanisms remain unknown. But it seems that science is gradually confirming what traditional cultures always somehow just knew: that fermented foods are special foods, able to nourish us deeply and help keep us healthy. Make them a part of a continuing series of healthy life choices. If this is a new part of your life adventure, enjoy the trip, the discoveries, and the tastes.


Download the entire paper in PDF format

[submitted by Shawn Cartwright]


Ted Nawalinski, Sc.D., has more than 36 years’ experience in Chinese Internal Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Qigong and meditation. For the last 15 years he has devoted most of his attention to Taiji, Qigong, and the healing properties of foods and meditation.  His classes with elderly people in the western suburbs of Philadelphia offer a holistic approach to wellness, with nutrition and exercise advice to complement the movement and breathing of Taiji. Ted is a lifelong biologist and brings a global perspective to his interest in fitness and health.


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