Does Consumption of Fermented Foods Modify the Human Gut Microbiota?

J Nutr. 2020 Jul 1;150(7):1680-1692. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa077.


The human microbiota is a key contributor to many aspects of human health and its composition is largely influenced by diet. There is a growing body of scientific evidence to suggest that gut dysbiosis (microbial imbalance of the intestine) is associated with inflammatory and immune-mediated diseases (e.g., inflammatory bowel disease and asthma). Regular consumption of fermented foods (e.g., kimchi, kefir, etc.) may represent a potential avenue to counter the proinflammatory effects of gut dysbiosis. However, an assessment of the available literature in this research area is lacking. Here we provide a critical review of current human intervention studies that analyzed the effect of fermented foods on the composition and/or function of the human gut microbiota. A total of 19 human intervention studies were identified that met this search criteria. In this review, we discuss evidence that consumption of fermented foods may modify the gut microbiota in humans. Further, there is cursory evidence to suggest that gut microbiota compositional changes mediate associations between fermented food consumption and human health outcomes. Although promising, there remains considerable heterogeneity in the human populations targeted in the intervention studies we identified. Larger longitudinal feeding studies with longer follow-up are necessary to confirm and enhance the current data. Further, future studies should consider analyzing microbiota function as a means to elucidate the mechanism linking fermented food consumption with human health. This review highlights methodologic considerations for intervention trials, emphasizing an expanse of research opportunities related to fermented food consumption in humans.

Keywords: fermented foods; lactic acid bacteria; microbiota; probiotics; yogurt.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Fermented Foods and Beverages*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans