by Nancy Angelini

If one were to look up the term bacteriocins or fermented media in PUBMED, one would find over 5000 citations indicating the wide range of actions by these compounds that are, essentially, a by-product of fermentation. These exudates from beneficial bacteria are a vast array of compounds that many of us are familiar with as nutraceuticals in their isolated forms.

So much of our attention is on the bacteria themselves that we forget to see beyond and into the materials and compounds left over after the bacteria have done their work and expired.

In some ways we take for granted those by-products because the media is so familiar. Yogurt, miso, kefir, shoyu, kombucha, Kimchi — the list goes on. On closer inspection of this media it is astonishing to find a kaleidoscope of compounds that are touted to be some of our most interesting and powerful nutraceuticals. For example, B-12, CoQ10, Glutathione, Lipoic Acid, Super Oxide Dismutase, SAM-e, Butyrate and N-Acetyl Cysteine to name only a few.

The type of bacteria as well as the food or growth substrate will determine the type of compounds, their volume and their assimilability by humans.

In essence, the focus is on the ‘media’ or the cultured food or the end product of fermentation. One could argue that some of the most nutritive, easily digested and healing of foods are cultured. However, it is by virtue of the metabolites and exudates of the beneficial bacteria devouring, utilizing and excreting ‘stuff’ from some food source back into its environment that a multitude of health supporting chemistries is conferred back to the environment or to the host of that bacteria.

In absolute truth, this is the process of our digestion. In most cases, we look to digestive enzymes as the springboard to the human body’s ability to make nutrients available to our cells, tissues and fluids. We somehow conveniently forget that our bodies are actually fermentation containers. This part of our body is anaerobic (without oxygen) and is a closed container that allows our beneficial bacteria to masterfully complete the job of disassembling and reassembling the raw materials we have supplied to them. Our Lactobacillus species do the heavy lifting for our bodies if we allow them to. Of course how well they function is up to us and the food or substrate choices we make for our beneficial bacteria. In this way we are in a symbiotic relationship with a world we cannot see with the naked eye.

It is this marriage of varying substrates with varying beneficial bacterial species that creates a world unto itself. Any of these worlds such as yogurt, or miso, or natto, or sauerkraut and even apple cider vinegar can be studied endlessly for its cornucopia of synergistic, health promoting and supporting compounds.

In fact it is the wisdom of the ancients that have truly mined the life extending rewards of ferment metabolites. Fermentation starters are gleaned from the end process of a finished cultured product. Thus the ‘end result’ becomes the ‘beginning seed.’

Below are a few excerpts from choice studies on fermented foods as well as a short list of some of the best-known ferment metabolites.

There are numerous studies showing fermentation of food with lactobacilli increase the quantity, availability, digestibility, and assimilability of nutrients. ‘”Lactic Acid Bacteria and Human Health, Tufts Univ. School of Medicine 1990

These data suggest that miso [fermented soy] consumption may be a factor producing a lower breast cancer incidence in Japanese women. ‘”Nutr Cancer 1990, Department of Nutrition, U. of Alabama

Butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid produced during microbial fermentation of fiber, induces growth arrest, differentiation, and apoptosis of colonic epithelial cells in vitro’¦. Colonic turmorigenesis is characterized by abnormalities in proliferation, apoptosis, and mitochondrial activities.  Thus, butyrate may reduce risk for colon cancer by inducing a pathway that enhances mitochondrial function, ultimately resulting in initiation of growth arrest and apoptosis of colonic epithelial cells. ‘”Cell Growth Diff 1997, Albert Einstein Cancer Center, New York

Changes in the vitamin content of cereals with fermentation vary according to the fermentation process, and the raw material used in the fermentation.  B group vitamins generally show an increase on fermentation. ‘”’Fermented Cereals: A Global Perspective’ FAO Bulletin No. 138, United Nations, Rome 1999

Partial List of Beneficial Compounds Created by Fermentation (Ferment Metabolites)



SAdenosyl Methionine (SAM or SAM-e; pronounced “sammy”) is an amino acid produced naturally in all animals. In the human body SAM is known to be essential to at least 35 biochemical processes, including maintaining the structure of cell membranes and manufacturing substances vital to transmitting nerve impulses and influencing emotions and moods.


Antimicrobial Peptides

Also called host defense peptides) These peptides are potent, broad-spectrum antibiotics, which demonstrate potential as novel therapeutic agents. Antimicrobial peptides have been demonstrated to kill Gram negative and Gram-positive bacteria (including strains that are resistant to conventional antibiotics), mycobacterium, viruses, fungi and even transformed cancerous cells. Unlike the majority of conventional antibiotics it appears as though antimicrobial peptides may also have the ability to enhance immunity by functioning as immunomodulators.


Adenosine 5′-triphosphate is a multifunctional nucleotide that is most important as a “molecular currency” of intracellular energy transfer. In this role ATP transports chemical energy within cells.


Toxins produced by bacteria to inhibit the growth of similar or closely related bacterial strain(s).   Bacteriocins are of interest in medicine because they are made by non-pathogenic bacteria that normally colonize the human body. Loss of these harmless bacteria following antibiotic use may allow opportunistic pathogenic bacteria to invade the human body.

Beta Glucans

The Beta-1,3-(D)-glucan with Beta- 1,6-glucan linkage extracted from yeast cell wall (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) has been shown to act as a potent non-specific immune-activator.  Beta glucan is a scientifically proven biological defense modifier that nutritionally potentiates and modulates the immune response.  Beta glucan is ingested primarily through macrophage and dendritic immune cells, to nutritionally and safely yield, through immune response potentiation and modulation, in many instances various therapeutic healing effects generated by the immune cells.  For many years Glucans have been investigated for these immune enhancing properties, particularly their ability to activate macrophage immune cells and NK-Cells, plus in turn, the T-Cells and B-Cells include selected cytokines.


Microorganisms produce potent surface-active agents which vary in their chemical             properties and molecular size. These complex molecules include peptides, fatty acids, phospholipids, glycolipids, antibiotics, lipopeptides, etc.


The biotin complex of yeast, a peptide yielding biotin and lysine when hydrolyzed.


A water-soluble B vitamin that plays an important role in metabolizing the energy we get from food.  Assists four essential enzymes that break down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.  Also known as vitamin H or B7.


Coenzyme A

A coenzyme present in all living cells that functions as an acytl group carrier and is necessary for fatty acid synthesis and oxidation, pyruvate oxidation, and other acetylation reactions.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

Derived from Omega 6, suppresses an enzyme that breaks down and stores fat from the diet.


An amino acid containing sulfur that is found in most proteins oxidize on exposure to air to form cysteine.  It is an important precursor in the production of glutathione in the body and other organisms.


Flavin adenine dinucleotide, is used by organisms to carry out energy requiring processes. It is a coenzyme that is a derivative of riboflavin and functions in certain oxidation-reduction reactions in the body.

Folic Acid

A water-soluble B vitamin essential in the human diet. It is an important cofactor in the synthesis of DNA and RNA of dividing cells, particularly during pregnancy and infancy when there is an increase in cell division and growth.


A major antioxidant highly active in human lungs and many other organ systems and tissues.  It has a critical role in protecting cells from oxidative stress and maintaining the immune system.

GTF Chromium

A trace mineral that plays a role in regulating blood sugar levels.  GTF works with insulin to transport glucose from the blood into the cells.  The liver also needs chromium to manufacture fatty acids, lecithin, cholesterol and lipoproteins. Without chromium, blood fats tend to rise because the liver cannot filter them out.

Hydrogen Peroxide

In the body, hydrogen peroxide shows up in the lysisomes of cells as a function of our immunity. It is used to purify, change pH, and kill invading microbes.

Immune-enhancing Peptides

Any of various natural compounds containing two or more amino acids linked by the carboxyl group of one amino acid and the amino group of another enhance the immune response.

Lactic Acid

The end product of bacterial fermentation.

Lipoic Acid

Able to scavenge reactive oxygen species and has been shown in cell culture experiments to increase cellular uptake of glucose, suggesting its use in diabetes.  Studies of rat aging have suggested that the use of L-carnitine and lipoic acid results in improved memory performance and delayed structural mitochondrial decay. As a result, it may be helpful for people with Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.



An enzyme capable of destroying the cell walls of certain bacteria and thereby acting as a mild antiseptic.


Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP+) are two important cofactors found in cells.  NADH is used extensively in glycolysis and the citric acid cycle of cellular respiration; in contrast NADPH is required for the biosynthesis of nucleic acids and fatty acids.


A more potent form of vitamin B5 than pantothenic acid.


A polymer found in the cell walls of prokaryotes (bacteria) that consists of polysaccharide and peptide chains in a strong molecular network.


A phospholipid that is a major component of cellular membranes and functions in the transport of lipoproteins in tissues.  In biochemistry, lecithin is usually used as a synonym for pure phosphatidylcholine


Any of a group of phospholipids that occur especially in blood plasma and in the white matter of the central nervous system called also cephalin.



A minor phospholipid component of eukaryotic (animals, plants and fungi) cell membranes.


A phospholipid nutrient found in fish, green leafy vegetables, soybeans and rice, and is      essential for the normal functioning of neuronal (nerve cells and nerve fibers) cell membranes.


A B vitamin that is essential for metabolism of amino acids and starch [vitamin B6]


A crystalline amine of the vitamin B6 group that in the form of its phosphate is active as a coenzyme.

Pyridoxamine Phosphate

A member of the vitamin B6 group.  It is necessary in the processes to metabolize            proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, to make hormones and neurotransmitters, and to support the immune system. It also plays a role in the production of normal, healthy red blood cells and some of the neurotransmitters needed for proper nervous system function.



A newly discovered, broad-spectrum antimicrobial substance produced by Lactobacillus during fermentation.

Teichoic Acid

A polymer of ribitol or glycerol phosphate with additional compounds such as glucose linked to the backbone of the polymer; found in the cell walls of some bacteria. Evidence suggests teichoic acid may act as a bacteriophage receptor, however, this has not yet been conclusively proven. The main function of teichoic acids is to provide rigidity to the cell-wall by attracting cations such as magnesium and sodium.

Unidentified ACE Inhibitors

Inhibitors of Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme, that cause vasodilatation and are used to treat hypertension and heart failure.

Unidentified Antimutagens

A substance that reduces or interferes with the mutagenic effects of another substance.

Vitamin B1 (thiamin)

Of the vitamin B complex, found in meat, yeast, and the bran coat of grains, and necessary for carbohydrate metabolism and normal neural activity.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

Provides essential factors for the production of cellular enzymes that turn proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into energy. It also participates in cell reproduction, and keeps skin, hair, nails, eyes, and mucous membranes healthy.

Vitamin B3 (nicotinic acid)

A B vitamin essential for the normal function of the nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract.  Also known as niacin.

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)

It is an essential ingredient of two substances, coenzyme A and acetyl carrier protein, which are needed to metabolize carbohydrates and fats. The same coenzymes play a part in production of certain hormones, vitamin D, red blood cells, and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Pantothenic acid is necessary for proper growth and development.

Vitamin B12

Cobalamin, also known as B12, is a key factor in the body’s proper use of iron and formation of red blood cells. The nervous system also relies on an adequate supply of cobalamin to function appropriately, as it is an essential component in the creation and maintenance of the myelin sheath that lines nerve cells.

Vitamin B13 (orotic acid)

A growth factor for certain bacteria

Volatile Fatty Acids

These are fatty acids with a carbon chain of 6 carbons or fewer. These are a class of very important fatty acids such as acetic, butyric, capric, undecyclic, propionate, palmitic and stearic. These fatty acids are the product of proper fermentation and are critical to the overall health of any organism.

  • Acetic– formed when bacteria interact with the alcohol present in fermented solutions.
  • Propionic- A liquid fatty acid found naturally as a product of bacterial fermentation
  • Butyric– Butyrate is produced as end-product of a fermentation process of fibers with specific fatty acids. A good example in food rich with this is ghee.


An isoflavone with antimutagenic activity found in fermented soy.


An isoflavone with antimutagenic activity found in fermented soy.


An isoflavone with free radical-scavenging and antiproliferative activity found in fermented soy.

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