I have lately been discussing the potential benefits of fermented cabbage as sauerkraut and kimchi. In addition to being sources of both vitamin K1 and K2, the presence of the unique microbial species Pediococcus pentosaceus may provide an important role in reducing inflammation body-wide that, in turn, leads to effects such as reduced insulin resistance, reduced blood sugar, reduced blood pressure, and other benefits. Fermented cabbage also often provides the microbe Leuconostoc mesenteroides that also provides a blood sugar-reducing effect, potential neurological benefits, and has been found to bind the heavy metal lead (!!).

Pause for a moment: We are discussing the impact of intestinal microbes on human health. Who would have thought, even 5 or 10 years ago, that such magnificent effects were achievable with none of the side-effects or costs of pharmaceuticals, all by restoring microbes that we as humans should have been exposed to all along. The insights we are obtaining into the human microbiome are nothing short of earth-shattering and are pushing the efforts of Big Pharma to the back of the room. (Yes: I cannot help but gloat.)

But let’s focus on kimchi in particular because this traditional form of Korean fermented cabbage combines vitamins K1/K2 and unique microbes with capsaicin that comes from the red pepper that is typically added. Recall from a previous Wheat Belly Blog post that capsaicin from hot peppers has important effects on the intestinal microbiome that include:

  • Doubling the keystone species Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, the most vigorous producer of butyrate in the GI tract that, in turn, exerts effects such as reduced blood sugar, reduced blood pressure, and reduced triglycerides.
  • Increases Ruminococcaceae and Lachnospiraceae, species that are also important in producing beneficial fatty acids from dietary polysaccharides and major players in maintaining the intestinal barrier
  • Reduces populations of potential pathogens such as Bacteroides fragilisClostridium difficile, E. coli, Streptococcus and Desulfovibrio
  • Increases Akkermansia, a keystone species that contributes to mucus production and insulin sensitivity
  • Reduces Enterobacteriaceae species that produce lipopolysaccharide, or LPS, the toxin that is released upon microbial death and enters the bloodstream, thereby reducing the important process of endotoxemia.

Toss in the garlic and ginger that are also common ingredients and you have a mix of ingredients that are inadvertently crafted for wonderful intestinal microbiome benefits. Of course, kimchi was not created with these end-effects in mind, but it provides a miraculous collection of health benefits exerted via effects on the human microbiome. You’d have to suspect that kimchi was not created over many generations based only on gustatory criteria, but health effects. After all, the people in Korea have among the lowest incidence of cardiovascular disease in the world.

Most Koreans consume kimchi every day, not uncommonly at every meal. There are, of course, hundreds of variations on kimchi recipes, but they all share the core ingredient, cabbage, as well as the microbes that reside on the surface of the cabbage plant: Pediococcus pentosaceus, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus plantarum, and others. That mix of microbial species is a powerful combination.

It is becoming increasingly easy to buy kimchi at the grocery store. But I have found that kimchi from Korea, available at Asian markets, tastes better and is less expensive. I recently paid $12.99 for a half-gallon of Korean kimchi and it was much tastier than several products produced in the U.S.

Recall that including plentiful fermented foods in your daily routine is crucial for restoring microbial diversity into your gastrointestinal microbiome. It means frequently including kimchi, sauerkraut, other fermented vegetables, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, fermented meats and other fermented foods in your diet.