Can the bacteria in your gut make you a happier person?

image provided by Calvin Tribelhorn

Guest post by Calvin Tribelhorn

What if I told you there is a parasite that can alter the structure of your brain? A parasite that causes you to seek out dangerous and risky behaviour, increasing your chances of being in a car accident? A parasite that causes certain animals to lose their natural fear of predators.

This parasite is not fiction, but a single-celled organism that lives in the guts of cats, called Toxoplasma gondii. It demonstrates how much influence our gut has over our brain, mood, emotions and actions. And begs the question, when it comes to how you act, who is really in control?

How your gut influences your brain.

The colonies of microbes residing in your gut are like tiny drug factories, pumping out different chemicals and substances that affect your brain and mood. One such chemical is Serotonin, where 80% is created as a by product of certain microbes in your gut. The serotonin is then transported up the vagus nerve and experienced by the brain. Serotonin handles mood regulation, sleep and your overall sense of peace.

Further studies suggest that certain microbes may have antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties on par with drugs like citalopram. These studies are only a fraction of the research that is beginning to paint a picture of just how influential our gut microbiome is over our brain. They show the many mental afflictions linked to a disrupted gut microbiome.

 Is autism linked to our gut?

A 2012 paper by Dr Derrick Macfabe describes what happens when rats are injected with something called propionic acid (PPA). The PPA injection provokes peculiar changes in the rats brains. Changes like neuro-inflammation, increased oxidative stress and glutathione depletion. The rats also display abnormal movements, repetitive interests, cognitive deficits, and impaired social interactions.

These are all symptoms associated with people who have autism spectrum disorder. PPA is a fermentation by-product of bacteria found in the gut, primarily desulfovibrio bacteroidetes and Clostridia. Patients with autism have many more species of the clostridium bacteria and have high levels of PPA in their feces. According to Dr Sydney Finegold, antibiotics wipe out or suppress organisms in the gut, but the Clostridia bacteria is one that persists regardless of antibiotics.

 A CBC program titled the autism enigma featured Ellen Bolty, who explains how her son’s behaviour changed after six courses of antibiotics over a two month period for an ear infection. He was later diagnosed with autism. Digging into the research, Ellen came across information about the clostridium bacteria and how an antibiotic called Vancomycin, has proven to be effective in targeting clostridium bacteria. She then started searching for a doctor who would be willing to try the antibiotic on her son. 

After trying the antibiotics the results were astounding. She stated “Within a matter of weeks he became calm, he was aware of his environment. He is able to put puzzles together.” All things he had never done before.

 Vancomycin was able to temporarily suppress the clostridium bacteria, resulting in fewer symptoms associated with autism, however, once the antibiotics wore off, so did its effects and the clostridium bacteria came back. This case led to a pilot study with Dr Finegold, who found that out of ten autistic children who were treated with vancomycin, eight of them had temporary but significant improvements. Now jumping to conclusions about the cause of autism, has not been helpful in the past. But the idea that autism could be the result of a disturbance of the gut is gathering more and more evidence.

The disturbed gut ecosystem would also explain the common gastrointestinal issues autistic children suffer. At this point, saying the gut microbiome is important to your health is the understatement of the year. Dr Martin Blosser says that losing the entire microbiome outright would be as bad as losing your kidneys or liver.

 How to start fixing your gut?

Unlike your kidneys or liver, you can change the makeup of your microbiome by what you put in your mouth. Your microbiome is as unique to you as your fingerprint. We can't choose what kind of start we get in life when it comes to our microbial make-up. But we do have control of the single biggest factor when it comes to the make-up and health of our microbiome. Our diet.

You see microbes are everywhere. And your gut microbiome is always changing depending on the food you eat. Certain foods will feed certain species of bacteria that will either enhance your health, or destroy it. If you eat lots of processed foods and sugar your microbiome will soon reflect an imbalance of species that thrive on those foods, sending signals to your brain to get more and more of those highly processed sugary foods. This escalates cravings to feed this army of harmful microbes that have taken over.

You see the science around the role each strain of species performs is still new. There are so many different types of species that we haven't had the time to track and record them all. And it is only the onset of DNA sequencing that we can investigate this world at all.

What we do know is that among healthy individuals there is a balance of microbes of around 75% beneficial, and 25% not. This balance ensures that your immune system always knows what types of bacteria are harmless and which to get rid of immediately. 

Your gut is like a well trained guard dog, and only by exposing it to the enemy can it learn what to look out for.

Foods for excellent gut health.

If you are reading this you have heard the terms probiotic and prebiotic foods. Prebiotic foods, are foods rich in fiber. Fiber cannot be digested by the human body. In fact, when we eat fiber we are eating for our microbes who like us, need food for fuel. If your microbes don't get fiber they will turn on the mucus lining in your intestines for fuel. This is a huge problem as that is the barrier that keeps microbes, food particles and waste from entering the bloodstream.

The term “Leaky Gut” name describes exactly what is happening within your gut when all is not well. As soon as this barrier is damaged you have a doorway for the contents of the gut to begin leaking into the bloodstream. Which is a huuuge problem! And is the root cause for so many chronic illnesses we see today.

This spikes inflammation in the body, as the immune system goes on high alert to get rid of  whatever has leaked into the bloodstream. Leaky gut has been linked to a number of health problems like Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and virtually every autoimmune disease.

The key to keeping your microbes energized and healthy is to eat a wide variety of fiber rich foods. Some of my favourite sources of prebiotics are listed below:


The second type of food for maintaining good gut health is probiotics. These are different to pre-biotics as they introduce new colonies and species of bacteria into your gut. Probiotics means ‘for life’ and this term is used when foods contain many bacterial species that reshape your microbiome. Think of them as handy reinforcements in the heat of battle.

Probiotics come in many different forms, but the best and most cost effective way of getting them, is through fermented foods. As with fiber, not all fermented foods are made equal. Certain foods will contain different amounts and varieties of microbes to help repopulate your gut.

There are certain ferments that are both probiotic and prebiotic, meaning they supply your gut with much needed fuel as well as reinforcements of new bacterial strains. Your microbes are the foundation of your metabolism. Without them we would not be able to survive. Eating the right foods so that your microbes are healthy will over time bring your overall health into balance.

Your body is a miraculous machine. One that knows how to heal itself. It just needs to be put into the right state of balance first and then the rest will take care of itself. Getting your gut into balance is the single biggest leap you can do for your overall health, and one that will ensure you are able to live drug free.

This post is by Calvin Tribelhorn. You can see more of Calvin’s work at his website Kommunitea. If you are interested in more information Click here to get Calvin’s free video series on fermented beverages. 


Fermented Valentine! Chocolate Cranberry Mole

Fermented Chocolate Cranberrry Mole

If you are looking for something new and crazy, a bit spicy, a bit sweet, but complete with requisite Valentine’s chocolate, look no further—it is time for saying love with a fermented valentine.

Love your sweetie—love their guts!

Chocolate Cranberry Mole

Yield: About 1½ pints

4 cups (1 pound) fresh cranberries

1 cup dried cranberries

½ cup dried unsweetened cherries (or increase dried cranberries)

5 tablespoons (2 ounces) pasilla chile powder

2¼ teaspoons cocoa powder

¾ teaspoon salt

½ cup fresh orange juice

Process all of the ingredients to a paste consistency in a food processor. Sprinkle in the salt, since the cell walls of the ingredients are already broken down the paste will become moist right away. However, this type of ferment will not look juicy, instead it will be drier than you think is possible. Press the paste into your favorite fermentation vessel. Follow the instructions that come with that vessel. Otherwise choose a jar that is just the right size for your paste. 

Press the mixture into the jar, there won’t be an obvious brine; when you have pressed the paste into the jar releasing any air pockets, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface, again without trapping any air. Screw a lid tightly on the jar.

Put this in a corner of the kitchen to cure. Watch for air pockets forming in the paste. If you see them open the lid and press the paste back down. If the lid starts to bubble up, simply open the lid for a moment to “burp” the ferment.

Allow to ferment for 7–10 days. You will know it is ready when the cranberries have a delightful lemony flavor and all the elements have mingled together.

Keep a small round of plastic or wax paper directly on top of the paste to prevent evaporation and contamination. Tighten the lids, then store in the fridge. This ferment will keep refrigerated for 12 months.

Lacto-fermented Pickled Grape Leaves

Rolled grape leaves ready to ferment in brine

Here we are on the brink of the big harvest season. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, Oh my. But before you get overwhelmed fermenting garden veggies there is one thing you might want to pickle—grape leaves. In Southern Oregon the grape leaves are perfect for pickling right now. The leaves are large—good for stuffing yet still tender and fresh.

Why ferment grape leaves? I see two good reasons. One is to have a supply for winter dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), the other is to have some grape leaves available for pickling late in the season when the leaves have changed or in early spring. For example grape leaves are great to add to lacto-fermented asparagus.

Here’s why. When you use grape leaves to top crocks of krauts and pickles, they not only help keep everything under the brine: They also release tannins, which help keep the veggies crisp. If you pickle the leaves in early summer, you have them on hand to use for pickles during winter fermentation.

Make sure the grape leaves you pick are organically grown. As with all vegetables, the leaves are full of beneficial bacteria, and you don’t want to be consuming chemical pesticides. The variety of grape doesn’t matter. Whatever you can get your hands on:  leaves from table grapes, Concord grapes, wine grapes.

Lacto-fermented Preserved Grape Leaves

2–3 dozen grape leaves

2–3 cups Basic Brine (½ cup salt to 1 gallon water)

Rinse freshly picked leaves in cool water. Put in a bowl, cover with the brine, and let soak for 1 hour.

To roll into bundles, stack anywhere from 8 leaves to all of them. In other words, one huge roll, is okay just keep stacking. Tightly roll each stack from stem end to the tip. (Think cigars and see photo.)

Pack into a sterile jar, wedging them under the shoulder of the jar or with 4 inches of headspace in a crock. Pour in the brine to cover the grape leaves completely. Reserve any leftover brine in the fridge (It will keep for 1 week; discard thereafter and make a new batch, if needed.)

Loosely cover the jar with the lid.

Set aside the jar or crock on a baking sheet, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in a cool area.  Ferment for 3 to 4 days.

They're ready when the leaves go from a verdant green to a dark, dull green and the brine is cloudy. The changes are inconsistent.  If you were to look into the fermenting bundles, you’d see that the centers are slower to change. These grape leaves will keep, refrigerated, for 12 months.

Store in the fridge in the same jar, lid tight.

Mustard Greens, Fermented Kimchi, Chicken, and Sesame Seeds :: YUM!

Kimchi Sesame Mustard Green Salad w/ Chicken

Markets are loaded with many varieties of mustard greens—longer days and cooler weather make these brassicas delicious. Sometimes raw mustard greens will mimic that sinus-clearing horseradish (or wasabi) heat which I happen to love but others do not appreciate. This peppery flavor transforms with cooking into bitter bite.

In this quick-to-prepare recipe the peppery-heat of the greens is mellowed as the kimchi sesame dressing wilts the fresh leaves. The flavor is lively with the mingling of the fermented vegetables and the fresh greens.

Mustard Sesame Salad With Kimchi and Chicken

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side salad

1 -2 chicken breasts

granulated garlic powder

a bit of oil for coating the roasting pan

1 bunch curly mustard greens

½ - 1 cup drained kimchi

2 teaspoons naturally fermented soy sauce

1 teaspoon black sesame seeds

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Place the oven on the broil setting. Coat the roasting pan with oil.

Cut each chicken breast into about 3 equal-sized pieces for quick and thorough roasting. Place these on greased pan. Sprinkle on the granulated garlic powder. Place on a middle rack in the oven and broil for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until completely cooked.

Meanwhile prepare the dressing and the salad. Rinse off the mustard leaves and crosscut for a bite-sized piece. Set aside. Measure and drain the kimchi. (Remember always keep or drink your brine!) Rough chop the kimchi until it has a finer consistency.

Place the dressing ingredients in the salad bowl. Add the chopped kimchi. When the chicken is ready remove it from the oven and slice into bite sized pieces. Place these in the bowl with the dressing to soak up the flavors. Add the chopped mustard greens, toss and serve.

For some it's flu shots, for others kraut shots...

Briny Lemonade

Briny Lemonade

The brine from pickling shredded vegetables is pure vegetable juice. Remember, this liquid is achieved by shredding your vegetables, often cabbage, and through the further breaking down of the cells with salt and pressing. When these concentrated vegetable juices undergo fermentation they become a rich cloudy elixir containing not only the properties of the vegetable but an increase in vitamins C and B along with the additional beneficial bacteria (probiotics), enzymes, and minerals produced by the process. Kraut juice is also high in electrolytes. Folk remedies in many cultures have found healing in fermented vegetables and the resulting brines.

Brine was a precious commodity when we made small batches of kraut with only a tablespoon or so left over at the bottom of an empty jar, but when our kraut making became commercial, with 10-gallon batches of kraut or kimchi, we were faced with a huge surplus and very little space to store it. It seemed wrong to send it down the drain, so we purchased a couple dozen glass, USA-made shot glasses and took a few bottles of brine to market to see what would happen. Turns out people loved it and it became a mainstay. We happily made a dent in our surplus, 1.5 ounces at a time.

Christopher usually took on the job of bartender and identified four types of shot drinkers.

The Natives

Usually Eastern Europeans who grew up depending upon sauerkraut brine after a late night at the discos.  Given our market was on Saturday, we provided relief to more than a few.

The Drinkers

Often it would be the woman of a couple that ventured to taste the kraut, with the man hanging back just at the edge of the canopy, out of the sun but not close enough to commit to tasting anything.  Our small chalk written sign that read “Brine Shots $1” proved a siren’s song to these men, eventually pulling them in with a crumpled dollar bill in hand.

The Believers

Some folks do their homework and understand gut biota.  For them a shot of brine is an inoculation, a quick infusion of the healthy microbes. They were the  regulars, coming every Saturday and leaving a little lighter.

The Naughty Ones

There are people that want to knock back a shot glass in the middle of the street in the middle of a market. They would often giggle or make a dramatic play of it, convinced they were somehow being mischievous.

This blog is about flavor and the enjoyment of fermented foods, so if your first reaction is still–ick, yuck, no way, really? –or if you simply don’t like brine straight up, try making plain sauerkraut brine into “lemonade”.


1 cup sauerkraut brine
3/4 – 1 cup unrefined sugar or honey
one whole lemon thinly sliced
1 cup warm water
3 – 4 cups cold water
optional variation: grate in a little bit of fresh ginger to taste

Make a simple syrup with 3/4 cup unrefined sugar or honey and 1 cup warm water. Mix until your sweetener is completely dissolved.

Place your syrup into a pitcher and add the sauerkraut brine, cold water and lemon slices. Give the lemon slices a twist to release some of the lemon juice as you are putting them into the pitcher. Add optional ginger at this point.

Let this sit for about a half hour to allow the flavors to mingle.

Serve over ice for a refreshing summer beverage, or serve room temperature for a cozy healing beverage.

Lastly if you are interested in some of the science behind cabbages and their anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties you might want to check these links out.

The Journal of Food Protection in September 2006 published a study that found that the juice from brassica oleracea leaves (members of the cabbage family) was effective in inhibiting the growth of Salmonella Enteritidis, verotoxigenic Escherichia coli O157:H7, E. coli HB producing thermolabile toxin, nontoxigenic E. coli, and Listeria monocytogenes.

Food Chemistry Toxicology published a study in October 2010, wherein researchers found that a “bio-converted product of cabbage” (fermented kraut brine) displayed potential anti-candida effects. It concluded that fermented cabbage juice (kraut brine) has potential therapeutic value of medicinal significance to control Candida species including clinical isolates.