Curcumin Inhibits Virus-Induced Cytokine Storm

Curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, has a solid foundation in science with numerous studies vouching for its anti-inflammatory effects.1 As noted in a 2017 review in the journal Foods:2 "[Curcumin] aids in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia … Most of these benefits can be attributed to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects." Along with several other supplements, curcumin has also been identified as having particular benefit against COVID-19. According to the paper,3 "Potential Inhibitor of COVID-19 Main Protease (Mpro) From Several Medicinal Plant Compounds by Molecular Docking Study," posted March 13, 2020, on preprints.org, curcumin and demethoxycurcumin were two compounds among several that were found to inhibit COVID-19 Mpro. As noted in "Designing of Improved Drugs for COVID-19,"4 COVID-19 Mpro is a potential drug target because "the crystal structure of Mpro provides a basis for designing of a potent inhibitor to the protease with a marked tropism to the lung." Studies have also shown curcumin has an inhibitory effect on virus-induced cytokine storms, which occur as a result of an overproduction of immune cells and pro-inflammatory cytokines. This too suggests it may be of particular use against COVID-19, considering the cytokine storm triggered in severe and critical COVID-19 infection is what ends up killing these patients. Curcumin Is a Potential Therapeutic Against COVID-19 Most recently, a scientific review5 in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, published June 12, 2020, reports curcumin might be useful in cases of severe viral pneumonia such as COVID-19. According to the authors: "Coronavirus infection, including SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV2, causes daunting diseases that can be fatal because of lung failure and systemic cytokine storm. The development of coronavirus-evoked pneumonia is associated with excessive inflammatory responses in the lung, known as 'cytokine storms,' which results in pulmonary edema, atelectasis, and acute lung injury (ALI) or fatal acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). No drugs are available to suppress overly immune response-mediated lung injury effectively. In light of the low toxicity and its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral activity, it is plausible to speculate that curcumin could be used as a therapeutic drug for viral pneumonia and ALI/ARDS. Therefore, in this review, we summarize the mounting evidence obtained from preclinical studies using animal models of lethal pneumonia where curcumin exerts protective effects by regulating the expression of both pro- and anti-inflammatory factors … promoting the apoptosis of PMN cells, and scavenging the reactive oxygen species (ROS), which exacerbates the inflammatory response. These studies provide a rationale that curcumin can be used as a therapeutic agent against pneumonia and ALI/ARDS in humans resulting from coronaviral infection." Curcumin Inhibits Cytokine Storm As discussed in that Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology review,6 curcumin has a long history of medicinal use, without overt side effects. Studies have demonstrated it has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer and antidiabetic activity, and clinical trials have shown efficacy in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and infectious diseases — especially viral infections. In light of and its preventative and therapeutic role in viral infection and cytokine storms common to all viral infections, curcumin could conceivably be considered as an attractive agent for the management of coronavirus infections.One important mechanism behind curcumin's beneficial effects is its ability to modulate immune responses, meaning it can both upregulate and downregulate immune responses as needed. According to the authors, at least four studies, published between 2018 and 2020, suggest curcumin inhibits virus-induced cytokine storms. These include: A 2018 study7 in the International Immunopharmacology journal, which showed curcumin inhibits influenza A virus replication and influenza-induced pneumonia. It also activates the Nrf2 signaling pathway, inhibits oxidative stress and improves influenza-induced ALI in vivo. A 2018 study8 in the Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, which found curcumin effectively inhibits influenza A infection. A 2019 study9 in Frontiers in Microbiology, which highlighted curcumin's antiviral activity against the influenza virus, hepatitis C virus and HIV. A 2020 study10 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences that reported curcumin has the ability to block herpes simplex virus Type 2 (HSV-2) infection and inhibit production of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines in vitro. Curcumin's Mechanisms

Curcumin Inhibits Virus-Induced Cytokine Storm

Curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, has a solid foundation in science with numerous studies vouching for its anti-inflammatory effects.1 As noted in a 2017 review in the journal Foods:2

"[Curcumin] aids in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia … Most of these benefits can be attributed to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects."

Along with several other supplements, curcumin has also been identified as having particular benefit against COVID-19.

According to the paper,3 "Potential Inhibitor of COVID-19 Main Protease (Mpro) From Several Medicinal Plant Compounds by Molecular Docking Study," posted March 13, 2020, on preprints.org, curcumin and demethoxycurcumin were two compounds among several that were found to inhibit COVID-19 Mpro.

As noted in "Designing of Improved Drugs for COVID-19,"4 COVID-19 Mpro is a potential drug target because "the crystal structure of Mpro provides a basis for designing of a potent inhibitor to the protease with a marked tropism to the lung."

Studies have also shown curcumin has an inhibitory effect on virus-induced cytokine storms, which occur as a result of an overproduction of immune cells and pro-inflammatory cytokines. This too suggests it may be of particular use against COVID-19, considering the cytokine storm triggered in severe and critical COVID-19 infection is what ends up killing these patients.

Curcumin Is a Potential Therapeutic Against COVID-19

Most recently, a scientific review5 in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, published June 12, 2020, reports curcumin might be useful in cases of severe viral pneumonia such as COVID-19. According to the authors:

"Coronavirus infection, including SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV2, causes daunting diseases that can be fatal because of lung failure and systemic cytokine storm.

The development of coronavirus-evoked pneumonia is associated with excessive inflammatory responses in the lung, known as 'cytokine storms,' which results in pulmonary edema, atelectasis, and acute lung injury (ALI) or fatal acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

No drugs are available to suppress overly immune response-mediated lung injury effectively. In light of the low toxicity and its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral activity, it is plausible to speculate that curcumin could be used as a therapeutic drug for viral pneumonia and ALI/ARDS.

Therefore, in this review, we summarize the mounting evidence obtained from preclinical studies using animal models of lethal pneumonia where curcumin exerts protective effects by regulating the expression of both pro- and anti-inflammatory factors … promoting the apoptosis of PMN cells, and scavenging the reactive oxygen species (ROS), which exacerbates the inflammatory response.

These studies provide a rationale that curcumin can be used as a therapeutic agent against pneumonia and ALI/ARDS in humans resulting from coronaviral infection."

Curcumin Inhibits Cytokine Storm

As discussed in that Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology review,6 curcumin has a long history of medicinal use, without overt side effects. Studies have demonstrated it has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer and antidiabetic activity, and clinical trials have shown efficacy in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and infectious diseases — especially viral infections.

One important mechanism behind curcumin's beneficial effects is its ability to modulate immune responses, meaning it can both upregulate and downregulate immune responses as needed. According to the authors, at least four studies, published between 2018 and 2020, suggest curcumin inhibits virus-induced cytokine storms. These include:

  • A 2018 study7 in the International Immunopharmacology journal, which showed curcumin inhibits influenza A virus replication and influenza-induced pneumonia. It also activates the Nrf2 signaling pathway, inhibits oxidative stress and improves influenza-induced ALI in vivo.
  • A 2018 study8 in the Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, which found curcumin effectively inhibits influenza A infection.
  • A 2019 study9 in Frontiers in Microbiology, which highlighted curcumin's antiviral activity against the influenza virus, hepatitis C virus and HIV.
  • A 2020 study10 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences that reported curcumin has the ability to block herpes simplex virus Type 2 (HSV-2) infection and inhibit production of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines in vitro.

Curcumin's Mechanisms of Action

As for how curcumin inhibits the cytokine storm and modulates immune function, the Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology review explains:11

"There is clear evidence from coronavirus infected patients with both high cytokine levels and pathological changes in the lung. For example, in plasma of COVID-19 patients, high concentrations of IL-2, IL-6, and IL-7 have been observed.

In particular, IL-6 was significantly elevated in critically ill patients with ARDS compared to patients without ARDS and was statistically significantly correlated with death …

Numerous in vivo and in vitro studies have been shown that curcumin and its analogs markedly inhibit the production and release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-1, IL-6, IL-8, TNF-α …

Curcumin also decreases expression of many other inflammatory mediators … which regulate the activity of immune cells and inflammatory responses and promote fibrosis in the lung after infection.

The mechanism underlying curcumin modulation of inflammation has been extensively investigated and engages diverse signaling pathways, among which NF-κB plays an essential role. It was reported that curcumin effectively regulates NF-κB signaling through multiple mechanisms (Figure 2):

First, curcumin inhibits activation of IKKβ … Second, curcumin enhances the expression or stability of IκBα … Third, curcumin activates AMPK. It has been documented that curcumin blocks NF-κB signaling upon infection with Influenza A virus (IAV) as a consequence of AMPK activation. Fourth, curcumin acts on p65 to disturb the NF-κB pathway.

Infection with IAV led to a decrease of p65 in the cytosol of macrophages and a corresponding increase in the nucleus, where it forms a functional complex with NF-κB, ultimately upregulating transcription of pro-inflammatory cytokines. In contrast, the use of curcumin blocks the nuclear translocation of NF-κB and p65, downregulating transcription of the cytokine genes …

In contrast to its negative effect on pro-inflammatory molecules, curcumin has been shown to regulate anti-inflammatory cytokines positively, in particular IL-10. The latter is an essential negative regulator for inflammatory responses …

IL-10 acts on inflammatory monocytes to reduce the release of TNF-α, IL-6, and ROS, thereby alleviating tissue damage caused by the continuous inflammatory response … Curcumin noticeably attenuates lung injury by inducing the differentiation of regulatory T cells (Tregs) and upregulating IL-10 production."

Figure 2.

Curcumin Has Antiviral Activity

Curcumin also has direct antiviral activity — including against SARS-CoV (the coronavirus responsible for SARS), as demonstrated in a 2007 study.12 Several studies have elaborated on its antiviral mechanisms, which Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology lists as:13

  • Directly targeting viral proteins
  • Inhibiting particle production and gene expression
  • Blocking viral attachment to cells (possibly by disrupting the fluidity of the viral envelope)
  • Blocking viral entry into the cell
  • Blocking viral replication

Curcumin binds strongly to hemagglutinin (HA), a glycoprotein that allows the influenza virus to attach to the cell. Research has shown curcumin interacts with HA, thus disturbing the integrity of the viral membrane. This is what blocks viral binding to the host cell and prevents the virus from entering the cell. Curcumin has also been shown to directly inactivate certain strains of influenza virus.

Other Pulmonary Benefits of Curcumin

Other beneficial effects that suggest curcumin may be suitable in the treatment of COVID-19 include:14

Alleviating exudation of proteins to alveoli spaces

Alleviating lung edema triggered by inflammation

Attenuating lung injury

Reducing the degree of airway inflammation

Disrupting airway remodeling by inhibiting the proliferation of bronchial epithelial cells

Improving pneumonia and preventing development of severe pneumonia

Alleviating ALI-induced pulmonary fibrosis

Improving lung index

According to the Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology review,15 the available research "suggest that curcumin administration could have both prophylactic and therapeutic effects on virus-induced pneumonia and mortality." Furthermore, while human trials on curcumin for coronaviruses are still lacking:

"… in light of and its preventative and therapeutic role in viral infection and cytokine storms common to all viral infections, curcumin could conceivably be considered as an attractive agent for the management of coronavirus infections."

Research published in 2015 further supports the conclusions in the Cell and Developmental Biology review. That study,16 "Curcumin Suppression of Cytokine Release and Cytokine Storm," found curcumin could be a potential therapy for patients infected with Ebola and other dangerous viruses. According to the authors:17

"The activity of curcumin in suppressing multiple cytokines, and its activity in experimental models of diseases and conditions associated with cytokine storm, suggest it may be useful in the treatment of patients with Ebola and cytokine storm.

Curcumin is poorly absorbed from the intestinal tract; however, intravenous formulations may allow therapeutic blood levels of curcumin to be achieved in patients diagnosed with cytokine storm."

How to Get the Most Out of Your Curcumin Supplement

If you want to use curcumin, be aware that its poor absorption rate is one of its greatest drawbacks. While IV formulations may solve the problem in clinical settings, that would be rather impractical for home use.

Researchers have investigated a variety of different delivery methods, including oral, intravenous, subcutaneous and intraperitoneal delivery, as well as a variety of formulations, to optimize bioavailability. The following methods were all found to improve the absorption rate of curcumin:18

  • When delivered as a nanoparticle
  • Combined with polylactic-co-glycolic acid
  • Liposomal encapsulation

Since curcumin is fat-soluble, you might be able to further increase absorption by making a microemulsion. To do that, combine 1 tablespoon of curcumin powder with one or two egg yolks and 1 to 2 teaspoons of melted coconut oil, then use a hand blender on high speed to emulsify the powder.

Timing is another important variable. One of the ways curcumin works is to activate AMPK and autophagy. Both of these occur during the fasted state. So, it would best to take curcumin at least three hours after a meal and/or right before you go to bed. This would be similar for another powerful anti-COVID supplement, quercetin, which should also be taken while fasting and preferably with zinc.

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Flavorful Fermented Foods Have Healing Properties

Scientists have learned that the variety of microbes that live in your gut are as unique to you as your fingerprint. This population of microbial flora can be rapidly altered after exposure to foods, toxins, antibiotics and even lifestyle choices. Each microbe performs a function and must be balanced for you to maintain optimal health. Potentially harmful microbes are only dangerous when they overwhelm beneficial ones. Essentially, this means living in a sterile environment is not ideal since the loss of your gut microbiome and the microbes living on your skin will adversely affect your health; this happens when we use antibacterial soaps and antibiotics. Researchers understand that diseases are likely influenced by what happens in the gut microbiome. Some of the conditions identified thus far are cancer, autoimmune disorders, autism, cardiovascular disease and obesity.1,2,3 Your gut microbiome can also influence the effectiveness of certain drugs, including those prescribed for mental health. Since your gut can undergo rapid change based on your actions, you have the ability to positively or negatively affect its health and diversity by making simple alterations to the food you eat. Fermentation Creates Health-Promoting Components Historically, the primary reason for fermenting was to preserve food. Over time, many cultures incorporated fermented foods into their daily diets and some were credited with a selection of foods they shared with the world. For example, Japanese natto, Korean kimchi and German sauerkraut are popular in many areas outside their respective places of origin.4 The process of fermenting food is controlled by the microorganisms involved and the type of food. Yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide, while lactic acid bacterium produces more lactic acid. Most fermented foods from the grocery don't contain live cultures, which are a primary benefit of the food. Instead, before packaging, they may be smoked, baked, pasteurized or filtered. There is a growing consensus that the fermentation process adds nutritional benefits by transforming the food and forming bioavailable end products, including an increasing density of vitamins. Some of the plant toxins may also be removed. During the process, biologically active peptides are formed. In one paper published in Clinical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, the authors listed some of those peptides and their multiple health benefits:5 "Among these peptides, conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) have a blood pressure lowering effect, exopolysaccharides exhibit prebiotic properties, bacteriocins show anti-microbial effects, sphingolipids have anti-carcinogenic and anti-microbial properties, and bioactive peptides exhibit anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, opioid antagonist, anti-allergenic, and blood pressure lowering effects. As a result, fermented foods provide many health benefits such as anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-atherosclerotic activity." During fermentation, different foods are found to increase certain activities, thus conferring a number of benefits. In a paper published in Nutrients, the writers explained:6 "Fermentation was found to increase antioxidant activity of milks, cereals, fruit and vegetables, meat and fish. Anti-hypertensive peptides are detected in fermented milk and cereals. Changes in vitamin content are mainly observed in fermented milk and fruits. Fermented milk and fruit juice were found to have probiotic activity. Other effects such as anti-diabetic properties, FODMAP reduction, and changes in fatty acid profile are peculiar of specific food categories." Fermented Foods Are High in Beneficial Bacteria The transformation of the end product is not the only benefit associated with fermentation. The microorganisms responsible for fermenting are a focus of attention, as many are beneficial to your gut microbiome. In one study, researchers analyzed the microbial growth in “organically fermented vegetables, using a salt brine, which is a common ‘at-home’ method of food fermentation.”7 The researchers studied the microbial fermentation of beets, carrots, peppers and radishes. After collecting the data, they found the highest change in diversity of microbes was after two to three days. At the beginning of the process the microbiome of the food was similar to what would be found in the soil. However, by the end of the first day, the microbes that dominated the fermented food were Enterobacteriaceae. As the process continued, the population of Lactobacillales grew. The microbes were compared to a sample that were first autoclaved and sterilized before the fermentation process. These samples showed little change. The authors wrote:8 “Spontaneous fermentations are known to be more challenging to control and many industrialized fermented food producers use starter cultures to directly manipulate fermentation outcomes … Our res

Flavorful Fermented Foods Have Healing Properties

Scientists have learned that the variety of microbes that live in your gut are as unique to you as your fingerprint. This population of microbial flora can be rapidly altered after exposure to foods, toxins, antibiotics and even lifestyle choices. Each microbe performs a function and must be balanced for you to maintain optimal health.

Potentially harmful microbes are only dangerous when they overwhelm beneficial ones. Essentially, this means living in a sterile environment is not ideal since the loss of your gut microbiome and the microbes living on your skin will adversely affect your health; this happens when we use antibacterial soaps and antibiotics.

Researchers understand that diseases are likely influenced by what happens in the gut microbiome. Some of the conditions identified thus far are cancer, autoimmune disorders, autism, cardiovascular disease and obesity.1,2,3 Your gut microbiome can also influence the effectiveness of certain drugs, including those prescribed for mental health.

Since your gut can undergo rapid change based on your actions, you have the ability to positively or negatively affect its health and diversity by making simple alterations to the food you eat.

Fermentation Creates Health-Promoting Components

Historically, the primary reason for fermenting was to preserve food. Over time, many cultures incorporated fermented foods into their daily diets and some were credited with a selection of foods they shared with the world. For example, Japanese natto, Korean kimchi and German sauerkraut are popular in many areas outside their respective places of origin.4

The process of fermenting food is controlled by the microorganisms involved and the type of food. Yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide, while lactic acid bacterium produces more lactic acid. Most fermented foods from the grocery don't contain live cultures, which are a primary benefit of the food. Instead, before packaging, they may be smoked, baked, pasteurized or filtered.

There is a growing consensus that the fermentation process adds nutritional benefits by transforming the food and forming bioavailable end products, including an increasing density of vitamins. Some of the plant toxins may also be removed.

During the process, biologically active peptides are formed. In one paper published in Clinical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, the authors listed some of those peptides and their multiple health benefits:5

"Among these peptides, conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) have a blood pressure lowering effect, exopolysaccharides exhibit prebiotic properties, bacteriocins show anti-microbial effects, sphingolipids have anti-carcinogenic and anti-microbial properties, and bioactive peptides exhibit anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, opioid antagonist, anti-allergenic, and blood pressure lowering effects.

As a result, fermented foods provide many health benefits such as anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-atherosclerotic activity."

During fermentation, different foods are found to increase certain activities, thus conferring a number of benefits. In a paper published in Nutrients, the writers explained:6

"Fermentation was found to increase antioxidant activity of milks, cereals, fruit and vegetables, meat and fish. Anti-hypertensive peptides are detected in fermented milk and cereals. Changes in vitamin content are mainly observed in fermented milk and fruits.

Fermented milk and fruit juice were found to have probiotic activity. Other effects such as anti-diabetic properties, FODMAP reduction, and changes in fatty acid profile are peculiar of specific food categories."

Fermented Foods Are High in Beneficial Bacteria

The transformation of the end product is not the only benefit associated with fermentation. The microorganisms responsible for fermenting are a focus of attention, as many are beneficial to your gut microbiome. In one study, researchers analyzed the microbial growth in “organically fermented vegetables, using a salt brine, which is a common ‘at-home’ method of food fermentation.”7

The researchers studied the microbial fermentation of beets, carrots, peppers and radishes. After collecting the data, they found the highest change in diversity of microbes was after two to three days. At the beginning of the process the microbiome of the food was similar to what would be found in the soil.

However, by the end of the first day, the microbes that dominated the fermented food were Enterobacteriaceae. As the process continued, the population of Lactobacillales grew. The microbes were compared to a sample that were first autoclaved and sterilized before the fermentation process. These samples showed little change. The authors wrote:8

“Spontaneous fermentations are known to be more challenging to control and many industrialized fermented food producers use starter cultures to directly manipulate fermentation outcomes … Our results indicate that the presumed nutritive and probiotic value of this process is highly dependent on the vegetable and microbiome that comes to dominate the process.”

The microbes living in your gut microbiome, both beneficial and pathogenic, are important to the stimulation of your immune system. Your gut has a strong impact on its stability. Researchers have found that dysbiosis can increase your “susceptibility to infections, hypersensitivity reactions, autoimmunity, chronic inflammation and cancer.”9

Your diet and the medications you take play a significant role in the development of dysbiosis. At the same time, probiotics have the potential to restore stability. I believe one of the best ways to get probiotic bacteria is through eating properly fermented foods.

Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

The health benefits associated with fermented foods are many. In fact, the yogurt industry has advertised that eating a container a day may be helpful in maintaining digestive health. However, while the product may have probiotics, it also contains an abundance of sugar that feeds the harmful bacteria in your gut. This is just one reason why store-bought yogurt is typically not beneficial.

Fermented foods promote bowel regularity and may be easier to digest. For instance, researchers have found that sourdough-fermented breads digest more easily than yeast breads. The authors of one study found that for those who ate the sour dough form, gastric emptying was faster, as was the transit time through the intestinal tract.10

Others discovered that bakery products made with sourdough promoted better gastrointestinal function then those that were prepared with brewer's yeast.11 Fermented foods may help by reducing inflammation in the body and the gut. They also increase the bioaccessibility of polyphenols,12 which has a significant impact on mental health.13

Researchers have found fermented milk products to be helpful with certain conditions related to disease. In a study published in the BMJ, scientists evaluated two large groups of individuals from Sweden.14 There were 61,433 women and 45,339 men who responded to questionnaires. The researchers noted that a high intake of milk was associated with higher rates of mortality in men and women. However:

“Consumption of fermented milk products (soured milk and yogurt) indicated a negative relation with both the oxidative stress and the inflammatory markers …”15

Fermented foods may additionally play a role in the prevention of cancer.16 In lab studies, kombucha has shown the ability to preserve normal epithelial cells while selectively working against colon cancer. The researchers concluded:17

“Therefore, kombucha tea could be considered as a potential source of the antioxidation, inhibition of pathogenic enteric bacteria, and toxicity on colorectal cancer cells.”

As Chris Kresser, licensed integrative medicine clinician and co-director of the California Center for Functional Medicine writes, there are several more benefits to fermented foods. These include supporting skin health, protecting against food toxins and helping with weight management.18

Soy: Fermented or Unfermented?

Fermenting soybeans helps reduce their phytic acid levels. Phytic acid is a type of antinutrient that reduces your body’s ability to absorb minerals from your food. It binds to metal ions, preventing the absorption of certain minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc19 — all of which are cofactors for optimal biochemistry in your body.

Zinc is especially important during flu season, as it helps suppress the replication of influenza. While unfermented soy products contain phytic acid, fermented soybeans have the ability to reduce mild cognitive impairment and raise brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).20

Fermented soy may also help lower the rate of death from cardiovascular disease in men and women. In one study using data conducted over the course of 14.8 years, researchers engaged 92,915 participants.21 They found those who had a lower risk of mortality consumed more fermented soy.

But the data did not reveal a statistically significant association between the total amount of soy products the participants ate and all-cause mortality. The researchers cautioned that the association may be reduced by factors that were not accounted for in the study. They hypothesize fermented soy is higher in fiber and potassium than non-fermented soy, which may help explain the difference in rates of heart disease.22

Tips for Making Fermented Foods at Home

In the U.S., it’s becoming more popular to eat fermented foods at home. Yet, preparing them is largely a lost art. One of the quickest and easiest ways to raise the level of your gut health is through your diet. For example, sugar is the preferred source of food for fungi and harmful bacteria.

On the other hand, probiotic-rich foods, such as fermented vegetables, will boost the population of beneficial bacteria, which then reduce the potentially pathogenic colonies. Making your own yogurt at home is an easy way to start with fermented foods.

Many of the yogurts sold on grocery store shelves are fruit flavored and sweetened with sugar. You’ll want to steer clear of commercial brands as they likely will not help promote an overall healthy gut flora. To make yogurt at home you only need a high-quality starter culture and raw, grass fed milk. You'll find simple step-by-step instructions in “Benefits of Homemade Yogurt Versus Commercial.”

You can also experiment with fermenting almost any vegetable. Cucumbers (pickles) and cabbage (sauerkraut) are among the most popular. Although it might seem intimidating at first, once you have the basic method down, it’s not difficult. In the video below, Julie and I review how to do this.

As I discuss in “Tips for Fermenting at Home,” there are several steps you can take to make the process a little easier. Begin with fresh, organic ingredients and be sure to wash them properly under cold running water. The idea is to remove bacteria, enzymes and other debris as this can affect the outcome. Never use plastic because it can leach chemicals into the food.

Don't use metal, since the salt that’s used in the fermentation process can corrode the container. Instead, choose glass Mason jars with self-sealing lids. Most fermented vegetables will need to be covered with brine.

The process of wild fermentation is not consistent so you may want to use a starter culture on its own or in addition to salt. I recommend using a vitamin K2-rich starter culture dissolved in celery juice.

Allow the jars to sit in a relatively warm area for several days. The temperature should ideally be around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summer months, vegetables are typically finished in three to four days. In the winter, they may need up to seven days. The only way to tell when the fermentation process is complete is to open the jar and have a taste.

When you're happy with the flavor and consistency, move the jars into the refrigerator. Refrigeration will slow fermentation and the vegetables can keep for many months. Remember not to eat out of the jar because you’ll contaminate the rest of the batch with the bacteria from your mouth. Make sure the vegetables are covered with brine before replacing the lid.

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