Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) can produce a huge amount of bioactive compounds. Since their elective habitat is food, especially dairy but also vegetal food, it is frequent to find bioactive molecules in fermented products. Sometimes these compounds can have adverse effects on human health such as biogenic amines (tyramine and histamine), causing allergies, hypertensive crises, and headache. However, some LAB products also display benefits for the consumers. In the present review article, the main nitrogen compounds produced by LAB are considered. Besides biogenic amines derived from the amino acids tyrosine, histidine, phenylalanine, lysine, ornithine, and glutamate by decarboxylation, interesting peptides can be decrypted by the proteolytic activity of LAB. LAB proteolytic system is very efficient in releasing encrypted molecules from several proteins present in different food matrices. Alpha and beta-caseins, albumin and globulin from milk and dairy products, rubisco from spinach, beta-conglycinin from soy and gluten from cereals constitute a good source of important bioactive compounds. These encrypted peptides are able to control nutrition (mineral absorption and oxidative stress protection), metabolism (blood glucose and cholesterol lowering) cardiovascular function (antithrombotic and hypotensive action), infection (microbial inhibition and immunomodulation) and gut-brain axis (opioids and anti-opioids controlling mood and food intake). Very recent results underline the role of food-encrypted peptides in protein folding (chaperone-like molecules) as well as in cell cycle and apoptosis control, suggesting new and positive aspects of fermented food, still unexplored. In this context, the detailed (transcriptomic, proteomic, and metabolomic) characterization of LAB of food interest (as starters, biocontrol agents, nutraceuticals, and probiotics) can supply a solid evidence-based science to support beneficial effects and it is a promising approach as well to obtain functional food. The detailed knowledge of the modulation of human physiology, exploiting the health-promoting properties of fermented food, is an open field of investigation that will constitute the next challenge.
Keywords: antimicrobial peptides; antioxidant; beta-phenylethylamine; cell-cycle control; chaperon-like; opioid; tyramine.