New study links consuming live microbes in food with better health

By Olivia DeSmit

- Last updated on GMT

A daily intake recommendation of live microbes may not be far on the horizon, according to researchers.   Image © marekuliasz / Getty Images
A daily intake recommendation of live microbes may not be far on the horizon, according to researchers. Image © marekuliasz / Getty Images

Related tags dietary microbes Gut health Fermented foods Probiotics microbiome

People who consumed foods with medium and high levels of live microbes had better health markers, including decreased blood pressure, BMI and insulin levels, says a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition.

“There were generally modest but statistically significant improvements in health-associated outcomes with increased consumption of foods for all physiological parameters assessed ...” the authors wrote, with the exception of total cholesterol and LDL, which stayed consistent.  

The authors utilized a 24-hour dietary recall component and NHANES analysis for intake of foods containing live microbes. 46,091 participants were included in the analysis. All foods consumed within 24 hours were recorded for participants aged 19 and older who were not pregnant or breastfeeding. The live microbe content was estimated via a pre-existing framework and regression analyses estimated the associations between these and physiological parameters.

Live microbes in food

Foods were grouped based on the estimated live microbial content, with low medium and high categories. Low foods had fewer than 10,000 CFUs per gram, medium had between 10,000 and 10,000,000 CFUs per gram and high had more than 10,000,000 CFUs per gram.

The authors, in a previous study​, described foods in the low category as processed food such as cooked meat and peeled produce, medium as vegetable, fruit and dairy and high as mainly fermented dairy. 

Of the 46,091 participants, 29,348 consumed foods in the medium or high categories for live microbes. Participants were fairly evenly divided between not consuming MedHi fods, consuming below the median and above the median. Fermented foods were consumed less often with 79% of participants not consuming.

Health benefits found

The authors analyzed health data such as C-reactive protein, plasma glucose and insulin, blood pressure, BMI, weight, blood lipids and waist circumference. For those who consumed foods with live microbes,  a decrease in blood pressure, BMI, waist circumference, insulin, plasma glucose, C-reactive protein and triglyceride levels was observed.

The authors also observed a higher HDL cholesterol level. The authors wrote, “the estimated effects were generally modest and directionally favorable to population health.” When examining fermented foods alone, similar results were found for all except plasma glucose and insulin.

“In general, these results provide additional evidence supporting a link between live microbes and more favorable blood pressure, anthropometric measures, and biomarkers,” the authors write. However, they note that because their study analyzed food intake and not the numeric value of microbes, other food components may have contributed to the results.

Another important note from the authors — a daily intake recommendation of live microbes may not be far in the horizon. They write that such a recommendation may follow the already existing fiber daily intake recommendations.

Source: The Journal of Nutrition
2023,153(4), 1143-1149; doi: 10.1016/j.tjnut.2023.02.019
“Positive Health Outcomes Associated with Live Microbe Intake from Foods, Including Fermented Foods, Assessed using the NHANES Database”
Authors: C. Hill, et al.

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