Anthropology & Science: Is L. Plantarum a Keystone Bacteria for Human Health?

A quick catch up for anyone who is just tuning in:

Recently, I discovered that L. plantarum — the dominant bacterial strain in fermented plant foods like kimchi and sauerkraut — cures my hand eczema. I initially discovered this by noticing that I hadn’t experienced any eczema in the past two years, during which I consumed these foods on a near daily basis. And I then noticed that once I stopped consuming them last fall, my eczema returned. I hypothesized that not only was it these foods that kept the eczema away, but that it was specifically the probiotic bacteria that was creating the effect, because probiotic bacteria are known to primarily act through immune system modulation. And eczema is an allergy-related disease that is a product of an abnormal immune system response. So to test this hypothesis, I obtained a probiotic supplement containing a pure, isolated form of L. plantarum. Within three days of taking the supplement, my eczema had completely cleared.

Since then, multiple reports from readers of this blog (and elsewhere) have tried the experiment and replicated the results. And they have worked for other immune/allergy-related conditions as well, which was something I also hypothesized in my original report.

As you can imagine, since then I’ve been extremely interested in L. plantarum. Here’s why:

  • Anything that can have this kind of effect on the human body must hold some major significance for general human health.
  • Fermented foods have been a part of the human diet for a very long time, and are found throughout almost every culture. Humans are very likely adapted to eating them, which means the bacteria in fermented foods are important for human health.
  • Fermented foods, for the most part, fall into two categories: vegetables and dairy. Because L. plantarum is the dominant bacterial strain in fermented plant foods, this means that L. plantarum would account for a very significant proportion of the health benefit derived from fermented foods.

And it’s that last point that my mind has been focused on lately. I’ve been pretty satisfied with the explanation that L. plantarum must be important because it’s so dominant in fermented vegetables, which probably make up the majority of fermented foods (milk is just one food, but there are many types of plant foods you can ferment). But I haven’t been completely satisfied.

You see, I also very regularly consume fermented dairy, in the form of yogurt. But I never found yogurt to have any effect on my eczema. I’ll consume it for a while, stop for a while, and nothing. And it’s also the case that L. plantarum is not in yogurt. But fermented dairy must be important to human health as well. I guess L. plantarum can’t really explain its importance.

Or can it?

One thing I’ve known is that, while L. plantarum is never in any yogurt I’ve ever come across, it is found pretty often in kefir. Yogurt, on the other hand, has probably gone through quite an evolution in the past hundred years as it’s become a much more ubiquitous, mass produced food. Today, for a manufacturer to be able to call its fermented dairy product “yogurt,” it needs to contain just two bacterial species: S. thermophilus and L. bulgaricus. Whether this has anything to do with what constitues the ancient and ancestral formulation of yogurt, I do not know. But I very much doubt it.


Kefir production, on the other hand, very likely maintains much more of its traditional “ancestralness.” It isn’t as widely consumed, and can be considered much more of an artisanal food product. It is most often produced through the use of traditional kefir grains, which likely maintain a bacterial profile that is much closer to the kefir that’s been consumed for centuries. Kefir is always MUCH more diverse in its bacterial profile. Here is an example of the content of one widely available kefir grain starter set. You’ll notice it is much more diverse than your average yogurt product, and it contains L. plantarum.

And here is a study of traditional Tibetan kefir grains. Guess what bacterial species was isolated from them? L. plantarum.

Is it possible that the traditional yogurt consumed by ancient cultures also contained L. plantarum at one point? Kefir is known to have originated in the Caucasus. But yogurt, too, is known to have a strong connection to the Caucasus region, and perhaps originated there as well. Wouldn’t it be awfully likely that the traditional formulation of yogurt would contain a bacterial profile that is much more similar to kefir, and generally more diverse than what you find today on store shelves?

But there’s more.

I just came across this study (thanks Dr. BG!) that analyzes the fermented milk consumed by the Maasai tribe of Kenya. The Maasai are a beloved object of study by the paleo/ancestral health community, probably owing to the fact that they maintain a very traditional, ancestral way of life, and because they show that you can consume a ton of milk, blood, and meat all day and stay pretty healthy.

Maasai bebiendo sangre

For the Maasai, milk is an extremely important food source. Probably the most important. And the majority of it is consumed in fermented form. And guess what bacterial species was found to predominate in the Maasai’s fermented milk:

Lactobacillus plantarum was the major species among the lactic acid bacterial strains isolated from traditional fermented milk of the Maasai in Kenya.

Or how about this: Dadiah is a traditional fermented buffalo milk drink consumed by the Minangkabau tribe of Indonesia. In other words, another excellent way to see what traditional dairy fermentation really looks like.


And once again, we find L. plantarum to be a major component of this product. Not only that, but when analyzed, it was found to be the bacterial strain that had the greatest anti-colonization effect on pathogens in the fermented drink:

The most adhesive Lactobacillus plantarum strain was IS-10506, with 9.8% adhesion. […] All tested LAB strains displaced and inhibited pathogen adhesion, but the results were strain-specific and dependent on time and pathogen strains. In general, L. plantarum IS-10506 showed the best ability against pathogen adhesion.

As you can see, not only did the traditional fermented drink contain L. plantarum, but when compared to other Lactic Acid bacterial strains, it was shown to be the one with the strongest impact on host health.

Which brings us to the second part of our exploration. I think we’ve established a pretty good anthropological case for L. plantarum’s importance for human health. But what about some hard, scientific data? Well, that last study on Dadiah isn’t bad. And my own experience with eczema is pretty darn good proof, too. But are there any other studies comparing L. plantarum’s immune modulation abilities to other bacterial strains? Would I even be asking that question if there weren’t any!?

Here’s an interesting one: researchers took a look at which bacterial strain had the best ability to reduce an allergic reaction to soy. They fermented soy with various bacterial strains, including Bacillus subtilis and, of course, L. plantarum. The use of B. subtilis is especially interesting, because it is the traditional bacteria used to ferment soy into Japanese Natto. The results: fermentation by all bacteria reduced allergy response significantly, but L. plantarum did the best:

L. plantarum fermented soy flour showed the highest reduction in IgE immunoreactivity (96-99%) depending upon the sensitivity of the plasma used.

But here’s an even better one. It isn’t even about L. plantarum. It’s about Bifidobacterium infantis. The study examined B. infantis’s ability to protect the gastrointestinal barrier through its immune modulating effects. But before it did so, it first did a comparison among bacterial strains to see which had the strongest effect. The one with the strongest effect was the one chosen to be further examined. B. infantis was the winner, so that’s the one that was chosen to study further.


As you can see, B. infantis came in first. And Bifidobacterium breve came in second. Third place: L. plantarum! Why does this vindicate what we’ve been saying? Because out of the three, only L. plantarum is a probiotic bacteria found in fermented foods. The other two are bifidobacteria — they are the commensal bacteria that reside in the human body. Of course these would show the strongest effect! B. infantis, specifically, is the dominant strain of commensal bacteria found in human infants. This is like comparing the importance of a micronutrient to a human organ. Exogenously consumed probiotic bacteria like L. plantarum can be thought of as a very important nutrient like, say, Vitamin D. But your commensal microbiota are a part of you. So sure, Vitamin D is important for human health. But you know what’s even more essential? Your spleen.

So from this graph, on the specific, narrow measures that this study uses, we see that L. plantarum is indeed a major player in human host health. And probably THE major player when it comes to fermented food consumption. And it’s quite likely that this study alone doesn’t get at the entire unique nature and capabilities of L. plantarum.

And now a final, meta note to end this post. As you can see, both anthropology and scientific data are vital tools to figure out the human health puzzle. This post, and this blog in general, are a pretty good testament to that, I hope. But in the end, when it comes to practical matters of health, I have to vouch for the superiority of anthropology, for a very simple reason: despite what many “experts” would have you believe, there is so much more we don’t know than we do know. When it comes to human health, anthropology is a map of the unknown.

Take my eczema example, for instance. I consumed fermented foods for over two years. Why? Not because I had any scientific proof that they would help me. I didn’t even know how, exactly, they could improve my health. I simply observed that they seemed to be an immensely important part of traditional human food consumption. So I took it on faith. For a while. (It also helps that I grew to like them.)

But I’m also a pretty skeptical person. After a while, I started to wonder if there really was any benefit. So I stopped consuming them. And that’s how I made my discovery. The dots were all there, of course — the fact that eczema is an immune condition, that probiotic bacteria modulate the immune system. Even studies showing L. plantarum treating eczema in mice and humans. But seeing the dots and connecting them is easy in hindsight (in fact, that’s how most experts make their livings, and then pretend it was foresight).

Anthropology was the map. It allowed me to follow a healthful trail without seeing the dots. And then a healthy dose of skepticism and personal experimentation turned on all the lights.

In conclusion: eat your damn kimchi!

— Heisenbug


114 thoughts on “Anthropology & Science: Is L. Plantarum a Keystone Bacteria for Human Health?

  1. But the kimchi’s I have consumed are all so damn hot. My sauerkraut is much milder and I can use it in a myriad of ways, as a crepe stuffer, a salad ‘dressing’ or replacement of vinaigrette, side dish. Now if I can get my sauerkraut to ferment with lots of L Plantarum.
    Also you must be aware of the fact that a lot of our recent discoveries had somehow or other a link to anthropological studies or treatises. Think Jared Diamond, Stephen Cunnane, Frits Muskiet, and many others.

    • I do not know the relative abundance of L Plantarum in sauerkraut vs kimchi. Sauerkraut is typically fermented over several weeks, but kimchi over a few days. I don’t know what difference this might make in he bacterial composition.

      Kimchi is pretty easy to make at home. Here is a basic recipe

      You can adjust the pepper to your tastes

      Here is a good description of how to salt for other types of kimchis

      I’ve made my own a few times now. My most recent is a sunchoke kimchi that is fantastic. I get my inulin and my plantarum in one convenient dish!

      • Just a few days for kimchi? That doesn’t seem long enough at all. I know that traditionally kimchi is fermented for months in jars underground. Does it taste sour after a few days?

      • In questions like this, I turn to the master, Sandor Katz. Do you have a copy of the Art of Fermentation? If so, the info on page 114 is interesting.

        If not, here is an incomplete summary. Optimal kimchi taste was studied by Korean academics. They found 3 days of fermentation at 68 degrees F with 3% salt is best. MOREOVER, they found that L mesenteroides is the important microorganism responsible for kimchi fermentation, whereas L plantarum, “which is considered to be responsible for making sauerkraut, deteriorates the quality of the kimchi.”

        He references Hesselstein and Wang “Contributions of Western World to Knowledge of IndigenousFermented Foods of the Orient”

        In my personal experience, the sourness of my kimchi matches that of a local Korean store that makes their own. The taste is better because I use higher quality ingredients, like fish sauce, and I can leave out sugar.

      • Hmm. That really conflicts with actual traditional preparation techniques. There must be a reason that kimchi is traditionally fermented for much longer. Which just so happens to be what is required for L. plantarum to become abundant. It is true that a good long L. mesenteroides phase enhances taste for kraut, and probably kimchi. But it’s the lower pH that creates the sourness and characteristic flavor. And L. plantarum is always found to be the dominant bacteria in kimchi studies. I’ll bet there is something off about the study or the interpretation.

        So again, I have to side with anthropology over the scientists on this one. 🙂

      • The fermentation rate is affected a lot by the temperature, and from what I’ve studied, the rate can vary a lot even with a few degrees difference. Burying kimchi in onggi during the winter was done before the days of refrigeration, and one source I have suggests that the temperature was 40-55 degrees F. Nowadays, however, we do have refrigeration which is even colder and dramatically slows fermentation. Every source I have, including Korean, suggests 3-5 days at room temperature, then refrigerate. Of course, taste may vary, but it does seem that kimchi is considered an early stage ferment, unlike sauerkraut.

      • Interesting. In the end, taste really is the best way to judge I guess. If it’s sour enough, then I guess that’s that. Though I do wonder how it gets sour in 3 or 4 days when sauerkraut tastes like salty mush in that amount of time.

      • I have tried fermenting a lot of stuff, and find it fascinating how quickly things can happen. I have had chile mash bubbling away just a few hours after making it. Corn becomes inedibly sour after 3 days. Even with a short ferment, it is inedibly sour after about a month in the refrigerator.

        I just did a brief search, and here are a couple of cites. It is somewhat pointless for me as I am not familiar with microbiology and I don’t have access to the full articles.

      • I just tried to post, and there was some sort of failure. I included a link with Korean letters, so maybe that’s the problem?

        Anyway, I have a former career in theoretical research, so I never place too much weight on a random study. Kimchi works, and I have you to thank for letting me know.

        The link I tried to include is a fantastic treatise on kimchi. I need to read it more in detail later. It sticks with the optimal 3 day ferment. But it adds something I forgot about – the amount of salt matters. It says, for instance, that 7% salinity requires 6 months for the kimchi to mature.

        I don’t want to redo all of this but if you google bacterial composition of kimchi it will bring up a chapter called “kimchi fermentation and characteristics of the lactic acid bacteria”

      • Mr. H. –

        It is now been about a month since I made the sunchoke kimchi. I let it sit at room temp for a few days, and then refrigerated it. And forgot about it. I opened it yesterday, and there was an audible release in pressure along with bubbling that looked like a good simmer. It was fantastic! It had definite fermented more in that month or so, not really becoming much more acidic (to my tongue) but much more deep, earthy, and complex.

        So it is apparent that further fermenting happens in the fridge, and to my tongue improves the kimchi.

        I now have a ton of gochugaru and can’t wait for the farmers markets to reopen!

    • I’m sorry. Google search of “bacterial composition of kimchi” lets me see the PDF but going through the link above does not.

    • If you want to buy less spicy kimchi, look for ‘baek'(white) kimchi. I tried Chongga brand from my local Korean food store and it’s almost not hot at all.

  2. For years my wife has had bad eczema on her hands and head predominantly. I turned her on to your blog and she was excited to try your protocol. As she was starting a flare up, she ordered the recommended pills and started eating kraut every day. Unfortunately, she has not experienced the same results as you and others.

    She was on the protocol for 30 days. Since she still eats a SAD albeit with many more veggies on a daily basis in the form of smoothies, is there something that she could be eating that would be counteracting the benefits of L. Plantarum? Would this protocol even help if you have not eliminated the cause of the autoimmune response for the eczema?

    • Hi Jason. Sorry to hear it hasn’t worked out yet. It’s true that, in addition to the probiotic therapy, I’ve been for years consuming an ancestral type of diet that is theoretically designed to minimize the potential root causes of these types of things. In other words, a diet that first “does no harm.” I do very much believe that needs to be the first step for many people. For me, the probiotics might’ve been the last bit I needed.

      The SAD diet essentially does the opposite of what you are trying to do with probiotics (reduce low grade inflammation). So yes, I think it could very well counteract any type of benefit from a probiotic. Especially if there is something specific in the diet that she is reacting to.

      I think starting with elimination of processed vegetable oils, and then moving on to grains and high fructose is a good bet. But I know that isn’t easy for everyone.

    • Yes I have. I’ve been curious to test this out myself, just for kicks. I plan to soon. It’s apparently quite effective for IBS. But I imagine it might be effective for a lot more.

      • Hello, you might consider trying this probiotic blend, there have been quite a few studies done on this product. VSL3 it has 8 strains and they are all the good ones Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium infantis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus. Plus they have links to studies done listed at PudMed on this page.

      • 112.5 billion live bacteria!
        I wonder how they counted them all. One per second, 10 hrs without breaks per day, would still take a little over 8000 years. All in one capsule. Looks to me like quite the invasion. 🙂

  3. Mr. H. Thank you for the time and energy you put into these articles. They are a real gift to those of us trying to heal from too many antibiotics. You write beautifully and in a way that gives hope, makes sense, all the while reminding us of how little we know. I am very grateful for your work.
    A note about Align – a less expensive B. infantis supplement is Natren’s Life Start at about $17 for 70 servings of 1 billion. I was also thinking of giving it a try after reading today’s article.

  4. The kefir we have available to us doesn’t have L. plantarum in it. I was thinking of using it to start our own kefir, possibly using guernsey milk (type A2 casein). I have a probiotic with L. plantarum in it. Do you think I could just add it to the mix?

  5. I definitely enjoy consuming kefir over yogurt; it just seems to be better
    My personal favorite at the moment is liberte plain; of which I drink a 1/2 a carton for breakfast.

    Nice to know there is a difference in the probiotics.

    Still not sure about the whole “fructose is evil” thing after seeing the Hadza suck back large amounts of honey seasonally.

      • You mean all the commercials about HFCS being just as natural as another other sugar is a lie? For shame!!!

        Thanks for the link to the study — very interesting. And it supports your reasoning towards using Anthropology to help with the unknown, unknowns.

    • Pure speculation on my part, but I think ‘seasonally’ might be an important variable Vanner. Chronic consumption of fructose (or anything) with no break might create different outcomes to acute consumption, say, 3 months a year. Modern life has too many ‘chronics’ and not enough ‘acutes’.

      • Agreed. I really can only tolerate so much raw honey — it has a certain tartness to it.

        Seasonal is probably best. Maybe winter, when the fresh fruit is limited.

  6. Mr. Heisenbug,

    I had yeast issues last year that I was able to resolve with RS, a biofilm disruptor, fermented foods and Prescript Assist. I had rosacea and face eczema which also cleared up as well.

    However, I still get dandruff flareups — though they have lessened to a degree over the past few weeks. I tend to think of dandruff as being a kind of eczema — just a different location.

    Do you think that L. Plantarum is key to fighting dandruff?

    • Dandruff is a form of Seborrheic Dermatitis. And SD is said to involve the immune system in its pathogenesis. That doesn’t mean L. plantarum will definitely work. But I do think that means SD/dandruff is a very worthy target for experimentation.

      • If you already consume raw milk kefir on a daily basis (generally 8-16ozs + 2 TBLS potato starch), would it be unnecessary to supplement with L. plantarum? I am also looking to lessen the severity of my SD so I am experimenting with a variety of protocols.

      • If I were dealing with a specific condition and wanted to experiment to see if L. plantarum helps, then yes I’d definitely try out a supplement. It’s just not possible to know the concentration in a specific food. I don’t know if kefir has more or less than kraut/kimchi. My guess is perhaps less, since kefir seems to contain a larger/more competitive community of bacteria. But who knows.

      • I have seborrheic dermatitis which I control with a prescription strength sulfur based shampoo. I also have pompylox on my feet, though I control that completely now with epsom salts. I’ll buy some . plantarum and try it instead of the shampoo.
        I really like this blog by the way, really good. I just found it. I am actually here reading up on the gut as mine is a complete MESS. I have ME/CFS and also, more recently, ulcerative colitis. I had a stool test of my gut flora done and i am trying to figure out what to do to fix it. Would you be willing to take a quick look at my results and let me know what you think?
        I’m planning, as part of my gut repair programme, to start fermenting foods, is there a book you can reccomend on this? Someone above mentioned the Art of Fermentation, is that the best option, or is there another? My main aim of course is to get the good bacteria, not taste.

      • I enjoy this blog too. I hope mr Heisenbug’s absence means he is working on an epic post…

        I have a lot of fermentation books, and have spent a fair amount of time working with them. If I had to pick one book, it would be “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz. It gives specific recipes, and I am biased towards wild ferments, as opposed to those that use cultures, including whey. Real deal stuff. “The Art of Fermentation” is also good, but it is more of a loose discussion than specific recipes/procedures. Perhaps worthy after you have made a few ferments.

        Other books include Nourishing Traditions and Mastering Fermentation. While good, I think Wild Fermentation is superior as a first book.

        I can’t answer your other questions

      • Thanks. Here are two scans of my results from last year. Since then I was on a long course of antibiotics for an infection and so it is almost certainly even worse now. It’s quite a mess. I’m reading my way through your blog posts as there is a lot of useful stuff here.

        Thanks Wilbur for suggesting the book “Wild Fermentation”, I’ll try that out!

      • I wondered about that as well.
        I think either the text is meant to read “Bacteroidetes/Firmicutes ratio”, or the comment is supposed to read “high ratio may be associated with gut inflammation” because as you point out, I do clearly have a high ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes.

        I don’t know enough about the two groups to decide which is wrong, the label or the comment, but I think one or the other must be.

  7. All this L. plantarum talk is making me feel a little wrong-footed with my RS experiment. 🙂

    IIRC, RS preferentially feeds bifido, which makes something that feeds ruminococcus, which makes butyrate. And those two are able to permanently colonize in the gut, whereas L. plantarum is just a passing traveller, meaning kraut, kimichi, or kefir must be a daily part of one’s diet or its positive effects is lost after 3-5 days. Yes?

    Finally, regarding fermentation periods, I think it is suspicious/strange that L plantarum should need 12 hours for kefir, 72 hours for kimichi, and 90-180 days for kraut.

    • Allan, a few years ago when I started making my own kefir I found a study done in Japan in regards to kefir bacteria and how long they stay in the gut. You are correct. Stop the kefir, and after a few days all the bacteria are gone. So it seems, these types of foods need to be ingested several times per week to maintain a continued benefit from them.

    • Yep, that sounds about right. I think it’s best to think of fermented foods like the environmental bugs we’re regularly exposed to (and should be exposed to).

      With kefir, that makes sense — you are inoculating it from the start, so it has a head start with all the necessary bacteria. But with sauerkraut/kimchi, you are letting them both take a more natural course, so I’m equally puzzled.

      I think this will be hard to figure out since methods of kimchi making vary so much. Also, some use starters from leftover kimchi, which would definitely up the bacterial count (like with kefir). Also, with traditional kimchi making, I believe 3 days at room temp is just the initial period, and then stored in a cooler temp for weeks, months, or even years. But in any method, you are likely to get some level of L. plantarum I think.

      I might try and find out more about how the kimchi I eat is made. Or maybe even conduct a little science experiment…

    • Actually L.Plantarum is NOT a passing traveler. It has the ability to colonize.

      “L. plantarum also has a mannose-specific adhesion, which allows it to adhere to the epithelial lining in the human intestines and compete with both gram-positive and gram-negative pathogenic bacteria for nutrients [5,12]”

      The linked article has an incredible by the way. Highly recommended reading. .

      • Thanks for the link. I think we have to separate the concepts of adhesion and colonization. Probiotic bacteria can and do adhere to the intestinal lining for a period — in fact that’s how most of them exert their physiological effects. But that adhesion is temporary. Hence the need for continued consumption from fermented foods.

      • Perhaps you have a different definition of the term “colonization” for that is the term used by the scientists in the referenced experiments. And also please define “temporary”. 1 day, 11 days, 20 days, 365 days? If you read it carefully they also differentiate between “adhesion” and “colonization”. They know it colonizes but don’t know if adhesion is necessarily the reason for the “colonization” meaning perhaps there could be another reason.

        “Two Lactobacillus plantarum strains of human intestinal origin, strains 299 (5 DSM 6595) and 299v (5 DSM 9843), have proved to be efficient colonizers of the human intestine under experimental conditions.”

        In another study LP 299v was considered a “superior” colonizer compared to L. acidophilus which is truly considered transient because it only exists as long as you take it.

        “However, in our study, none of the L. acidophilus-like test strains was reisolated from the mucosa. Instead, the two Lactobacillus plantarum strains seemed to be superior. Strain LP 299v, which originated from sour dough, was surprisingly dominant.”

        “In conclusion, we proved that certain Lactobacillus strains have a general ability to colonize human intestinal mucosa, independent of dietary and physiological differences among individuals.”

        The experiment (in vivo) tested 11 days after administration.

      • 11 days is not all that long. Many studies show bacterial species are still detected within that amount of time. The nomenclature used in the literature is a bit of a mess. Many seem to define colonization as adhesion for any amount of time. In other words, “temporary colonization.” Lactobacillus GG is a well studied species and has been found to temporarily colonize through adhesion: here and here.

        As you can see in that second one, the bacteria is undetected 7 days after discontinuation in 67% of subjects.

        In this study, L. plantarum was found to be undetected 15 days after discontinuation.

        This thorough review comes down pretty firmly on the side of no permanent colonization.

        This would be supported by the fact that these bacteria are obtained from the continuous intake of fermented foods, which ensures a steady exposure.

        It is certainly possible that L. plantarum, and this particular strain (299v), has a special ability to hang around and colonize for a longer period of time. I wouldn’t be surprised — as I’ve tried to show here, it seems to have a pretty remarkable human host interaction.

      • That is a great study you dug up, btw. I haven’t seen such a wide-ranging comparison like that. It’s especially notable how poorly L. Acidophilus did compared to L. plantarum, considering how L. Acidophilus is probably the most widely touted Lactobacillus probiotic. Nice find.

  8. George Mann suggested that one of the reasons the Maasai have such low levels of cholesterol (and heart disease), in spite of consuming so much saturated fat, was that the fermented milk lowers their cholesterol. This 2012 study provides evidence that he was right: “Cholesterol-lowering efficacy of Lactobacillus plantarum CECT 7527, 7528 and 7529 in hypercholesterolaemic adults”

    L. plantarum also lowers cholesterol for rats:

  9. The part of this that I’m having the most trouble understanding is why such beneficial bacteria would have such a short shelf life in the gut. One would think that we would have co-evolved such that our guts provided a nice environment for such friendly bacteria.

  10. Just wanted to report I put my gf on the L.Plantarum after reading your first post about curing eczema. She has had severe eczema on her hands arms, shoulders eyes and lips for about 1.5 years. It took 2 weeks of the Jarrow’s formula, 2 capsules a day before it started diminishing. This is the best improvement she has seen in a long time and I have you to thank for this discovery. She looks like maybe after another week or so she will fully recovered at this rate. Keep up the blogging, I look forward to your every new post.

  11. Mr H, would it make any sense to apply L Plantarum topically to any eczema-affected area? I was thinking about Jeff Leach’s blog on how the Hadza wash their hands with the stomach contents of impala, and also how some readers have had success with sinus issues swabbing the Jarrow Formula directly into their nose (although this could ultimately work its way through the gut anyway). Could L Plantarum help eczema treatment through the skin as well as through the gut, or is this a wacky idea? I’m trying rubbing sauerkraut on my dry skin with some success, but I’m also consuming it so it’s not a very good experiment.

    • It’s not a completely wacky idea. You do have a skin microbiome too, after all. But the idea behind this therapy is that it is getting very close to the root cause of eczema, which is the immune response. While microbes on the skin may play some role that I’m not aware of, it’s probably the heightened immune response that’s really at the root. So in other words, it won’t hurt. But I don’t know if it will help. Why don’t you let us know if you see a benefit.

      • @GB

        🙂 why not, you might like to eat the biomass afterwards like the sloths do:

        “We discovered that sloths consumed algae from their fur, which was highly digestible and lipid-rich. By descending a tree to defecate, sloths transport moths to their oviposition sites in sloth dung, which facilitates moth colonization of sloth fur. Moths are portals for nutrients, increasing nitrogen levels in sloth fur, which fuels algal growth. Sloths consume these algae-gardens, presumably to augment their limited diet.”

      • Thanks for the insights Mr H, I’ll report back but as I said my experiment is not well controlled. The dry skin is clearing, but it’s impossible to know what is caused by L Plantarum ingestion, what by topical application and what by unseasonally nice weather here.
        Thanks for the tip Gemma, I did see that article a few weeks ago and found it interesting – how naive we all are to the complexity and interdependence of natural systems.

  12. Intersteng to know that different bacteria including Lactobacillus plantarum are used in production of fermented salamis, see for instance here:

    So it is not only dairy and vegetables that can be eaten fermented.

  13. I have to report my progress “eating kraut against hand eczema”. Though for me it doesn’t seem to disappear over night, slow progress is still noticeable. I’m eating kraut for about 4 weeks now. My skins slowly seems to heel. It started at my fingertips, then some small patches of skin started to renew (pink and soft 🙂 )and now the deep cracks and groves are starting to fade. I haven’t had the crazy itch on and between my fingers for 4 weeks (sigh).

    However it is not all good news. A patch of eczema appeared in a new place, in the inside of my left and right wrist. Why does appear symmetrical? Very strange. I hope to nip it in the butt by applying it also topically and keeping it well moisturised.

  14. I wonder based on the study in your post comparing the various VSL#3 species if perhaps supplementing with B.Infantis and B.Breve may be even yield better results than strictly L.Plantarum seeing as they proved superior at reducing intestinal permeability. Obviously ideally it’s probably best to take them all.

    I also wonder if anyone has seen any comparative studies examining the different strains of B.Infantis?

    Another thing i have been interested in is co-factors of the various bacteria. For example L.Plantarum has manganese dependent process that help it scavenge oxygen radicals.

    Therefore supplementing with manganese alongside the L.Plantarum may be very beneficial.

    • This is my question as well, Gestalt. If it’s all about barrier strengthening, then it’s possible they will be even more effective. But LP may have some kind of special quality (antimicrobial production?). Only way to know is to try and see.

    • This was interesting to me. I make a drink with Cocoa, Kefir, Potato Starch, Stevia and then either high count L.Plantarum or a Garden of Life Probiotic and add in a Sacc. Boul. I didn’t realize that beyond the taste factor Cocoa would likely be even more beneficial because it is a good source of manganese … and copper.

  15. I really like your approach using anthropological records as a starting point to see if science can determine whether a culture’s food choices are healthy. My question is this: If most of these cultures have never seen antibiotics, their guts have not been unbalanced and damaged. However, there must be some bacteria, like cholera, for example, that would cause flora havoc? What do these cultures do to repair? Are there special foods, minerals, tinctures, etc., given to the sick with wasting illnesses which might be caused by upset flora? Unfortunately, some people’s guts are so disturbed by antibiotics that normal healthful items like fermented foods (due to glutamines, histamines, ammonia, etc.) cannot always be tolerated.

    • Probably a combination of a few factors — reduced exposure/infections (infectious outbreaks are mostly a result of dense city-dwelling and sanitation issues), a healthy gut/GI is less susceptible to infection/adhesion of pathogens (Cholera especially), and intake of plant polysaccharides that mitigate adhesion. Traditional cultures very often have specific medicinal plants that are relied upon for this sort of thing.

      • I wrote a two part series on FTA about how the raw meat diet of the Inuit and Masai contained a lot of raw, undenatured glycans — some of which also can act as prebiotics to beneficial flora and act also like decoys to pathogens. One of their most rancid dishes (kiviaq and igunaq) were a kind of rotting meat, yet it appears that the glycans, and perhaps other aspects of their food, would cleanse the digestive system in a very ingenious way.

        Medicinal plants were also used, but my series explains how a culture was able to do this without medicinal plants. It’s difficult for us to conceive of this since nobody eats raw animals anymore (except for obligate carnivores).

    • Sally, the medicinal plant for treating/curing cholera in some cultures has been the humble potato. I can not for the life of me find the references but some Slavic cultures IIRC used either slightly under-cooked or cold potatoes to treat gastrointestinal problems, cholera and hay fever. The Resistant Starch in these can quickly flush out cholera as has been demonstrated here:

      Also from Wikipedia on the fungi Saccharomyces boulardii:

      “Boulard first isolated this yeast after he observed natives of Southeast Asia chewing on the skin of lychee and mangosteen in an attempt to control the symptoms of cholera.”

      So here are two anthropological reports of specific non-fermented food strategies used to remedy gut dysbiosis. I am sure there are more if you dig a little.

  16. I have a practical question regarding sauerkraut. Does it mean that you have to eat in raw or is it also possible to cook it for a while to keep the positive healthy effects?

    • Never cook it Martin, but you can warm it up. Most can handle temperatures up to 45 or 50 Celsius. Going over 120 F would bring you close to the danger zone of sterilizing

  17. I’ve recently started making water kefir. I already lacto-ferment lots of veggies and yogurt. I’m told that one should keep the lacto-fermented foods separate from the kefir ferments in the fridge; that one (I don’t which) might overcome or contaminate the other. My question is: should I allow a period of time between consuming these different types of ferments. In other words should they be kept separate in the stomach? I wonder how this all plays out in the gut? Also, I just read that you can use water kefir as a starter for your kraut, pickles etc. Do you have any opinion about whether whey or water kefir as a starter is better for you?

  18. 1.fermentation is comectative inhibition of microorganism….comment/explain. 2.explain the role of lactic acid bacteria in preparation of fermented vegetables?

  19. Some of the discussion above seems to be saying

    1) L plantarum treats eczema
    2) Some kimchis don’t seem to have much L plantarum
    3) Therefore, we confront a deep mystery when it is seen that kimchi seems to benefit eczema

    Just because L plantarum treats eczema doesn’t suggest to me that it is the ONLY lactobacillus that can treat eczema. (Indeed, it doesn’t even suggest to me that it is necessarily the best.) Not to mention that one species of lactobacillus, L kimchii, was recently discovered in kimchi.

    So, I think you are onto something with L plantarum–especially because it is so widespread in traditional food-preparation situations–but I suspect that many related species may have very similar effects.

    Incidentally, although a lot of yogurts list only the two standards species, I am not sure it follows that means they are the only inhabitants. Reading up on L plantarum, there are articles that cite it as a common inhabitant of high-protein environments like yogurt, and others that discuss isolating it from commercial yogurt cultures.

    In modern aseptic food processing, it may be less common, of course. But since L plantarum is everywhere in a kitchen, I suspect that it was found in all traditional yogurts…and will find it’s way in to any long-running yogurt culture we start at home today.

  20. Hi Mr. Heisenbug,

    I found your blog about a month ago and I became an instant fan. Your detailed info, with both scientific information as well as day-to-day life experiments, is proving so helpful in my own life as I learn about our biome and our symbionts. Thanks!

    Re. L. plantarum and yogurt: I have been making my own 24-hour cow’s milk or cream yogurt for two years (using a commercial mix of L. bulgaricus, S. thermophilus and L. acidophilus).

    Recently, I started fermenting with single-strain bacteria. I’ve used either B. bifidum or B. infantis, in a 100% cream base. My reason was to increase my B. bifidum populations and my research shows that B. infantis may help with depression, which I’m trying to hack out of.

    Can I ferment the milk successfully with L. plantarum (24-hour cream ferment)? How will I know it has worked? Does this need to be fermented anaerobically or can I do it the way yogurt has been done for centuries? (I found one source on the web who thinks the B. bifidum or B. infantis should be cultured anaerobically. Frankly, I don’t understand why this would be necessary.)

    I am so all-over fermenting! I also make water kefir, kraut and other veggies and my husband makes kombucha from an ancestral SCOBY from Tibet (which uses green tea and – not sugar – but honey): the Jun culture. You can imagine the powerful kick to this elixer with the addition of the enzymes and bacteria from (fermented) organic, raw honey.

    Please give us a new post soon! I am sure I speak for many when I say we miss you Heisenbug!

  21. I agree that it would be good to see Mr. H back.

    Meanwhile: I have successfully fermented L plantarum in whole milk. It doesn’t form nearly as successful a gel as the usual yogurt strains, and I doubt that it will work at all in 100% cream–unless you mean light cream or half-and-half. There is very little food in real creams such as heavy whipping creams, since the sugars have all been eliminated. In any case, L plantarum will survive and multiply, but it is less than ideal.

    The best way I have found to culture L plantarum is to soak steel-cut oats in an excess of hot water (just below boiling). Obviously, make sure it isn’t tap water! The oats should remain small, firm grains rather than expanding and becoming mucilaginous.

    Put this in a jar, with an inch or two of water sitting over the oat grains. Add your starter (presumably L plantarum capsule, loosely cover the jar, and put it in a warm, dark place. After a day or so, the water will begin to turn a little milky, and the culture will acquire a delicious sour smell.

    In effect, this is like making a traditional soured porridge–except that I find it works better (and is easier to understand) than in a fully cooked porridge.

    (I imagine this would work in a yogurt maker as well.)

    Good luck!

  22. Hey David,

    I just this minute found your earlier post about yogurt and L. plantarum over there ( ) and was poised to respond, when I discovered – lo and behold – you had just posted to my post, over here!

    Is that serendipity? Or just a convergence in the space-time continuum? Must be a yogurt synergy in the cosmos of lactobacillus and bifido bacteria.

    Thanks for the info: was gonna purchase the Jarrow, great that you’ve done a test run and it is viable. How many caps did you use per quart?

    Interesting, I’ve had no trouble fermenting 100% organic cream (I’ve used the standard 3-strain starter as well as the Natren B. bifidum.) I have found, however, that you cannot mix milk and cream and ferment together. Several times I’ve ended up with the cream in a layer on top of the milk and it is an unappetizing glob of fermented fat. So, I now ferment them separately and mix together (or not) when the 24 hours is over. 100% full-fat fermented cream is to die for!

    Also, the yogurt flavor/ texture changes with the seasons: organic milk in the summer tastes richer to me and has more cream in it (more live, green grass in the cows’ diet?)

    David, re. the porridge: does the ferment time create oats which are now edible w/o further processing? Or do you just drink the liquid and discard the oats? (Musing out loud: I wonder what the ferment does to the lectins and phytates in the steel cut oats?)

    Please keep posting as I so need back-up when it comes to experimenting with yogurt! My single-strain B. bifidum (in cream) tastes great; not as rich as the other with 3 strains but I am eating it as medicine, 1 Tbs every meal.

    This meets Mr. H’s recommendation to get your probiotics into the stomach with fat!

    Mr. H: would you consider a post on hacking depression & anxiety? I’ve read your posts on the brain with enthusiastic interest. I’ve got mood, cognitive & mental fatigue issues (brain injury, car accident, years ago) and am all over the gut-brain axis connection via the vagus nerve …and via bacteria.

    I am of the opinion that fermenting is going to prove the best medicine for a “leaky blood brain barrier” and the leaky gut that one apparently gets, instant courtesy of a brain injury. (Who knew…)

    I’m off doing my own N=1 experimenting on the brain (and the 2nd brain) and would LOVE partners, conversation …and data. It would be awesome if your blog could be host to such endeavors.


  23. David, forgot to ask: I have read (on a reliable website) that B. infantis and B. bifidum would probably only work in milk if fermented anaerobically (in a Pickl-It jar, for example). They stated aerobic fermentation would bring out different effects in the ferment. I don’t understand the science; do you have any thoughts?


    • I too vote for a Mr. Heisenbug return!

      Laura, I know you are not asking me. I have no experience with trying to grow specific bugs. But I do have a lot of experience fermenting. In my learning, I decided to ignore any references to Pickl-it and treat sites that did mention it with skepticism. They seem very slick in their marketing. It might have some advantages, but I doubt that it is ever truly necessary. It is certainly not necessary for anaerobic fermentation. Sauerkraut is made by anaerobic fermentation, for instance. All you need to do is keep it under water. You’d have contact with air using an open container, but that is not aerobic.

      • I second what Wilbur says. There is a little air exchange from the air into the water in something like a sauerkraut ferment, but it’s not enough to allow aerobic bacteria to compete with the good guys. (At least if it’s salty water, or very acidic.) Most of the air exchange runs the other way, with carbon dioxide pushing out of the water.

        As Wilbur says, “All you need to do is keep it under the water.” That’s anaerobic enough.

        [Nothing wrong with Pickl-It, but it seems like overkill to me.]

        As to the specific bugs, I have, just for fun, cultured B. infantis yogurt (from capsules of Align). It seemed to work well enough. In terms of taste, however, I found the result excessively bland.

      • Thanks Wilber. I have followed your ferment stories here with great interest. Your fermenting experience is so valuable to somebody like me who is new to fermenting. Your posts / experiments and willingness to try new things has been so helpful; all in the interest of achieving vibrant health for one’s family!

        Yeh, I didn’t understand why someone was advocating fermenting yogurt in a Pickl-It jar so you would be sure it was a totally anaerobic ferment. Yogurt is an anaerobic ferment and I have always just stuck a lid on the jar and placed it in a warm oven (I use a clip-on shop lite plugged into a lamp dimmer switch with a porch thermometer placed in the oven. Keeps a very reliable temp.)

        If I am misunderstanding the science of anaerobic milk ferment, let me know.

  24. Hi, Laura–

    Probably the space-time continuum thing.

    Milk and cream tend to separate if you mix them together, so I’m not surprised you’re getting layers. I suppose if you really blasted them in a blender, you might be able to homogenize them–but even then there are limits to how much fat will remain dissolved in milk without separating.

    As to the food available, the sugars available per cup to the bacteria are roughly:

    Whole milk: 12.3 g
    Light cream: 8.8 g
    Heavy cream: 0.8 g

    So it really depends on where along that, umm, saccharide continuum your cream exists. Heavy cream doesn’t leave much room for growth; light cream has about a third less food than milk. So there is less room for growth than in milk. On the other hand, if you’re running a fermentation for a full 24 hours, then the little bugs will certainly scoop up every available bit.

    As to the oatmeal, I was using a Jarrow capsule per cup or per pint (tried at both levels). Of course, the greater the concentration, the faster the growth. At a capsule per cup, I had a lot of activity with 24 hours, and considered it ‘finished” in a couple of days. Per pint, it’s a little slower.

    I imagine you would get there eventually with a capsule per quart. The only problem is that these cultures are pretty vulnerable to invasion. Unlike most ferments, which are protected by things like high salt levels, the process I am describing is an environment that is wide open to the growth of other, less friendly, bugs. So I get it to where I like the taste and smell and then pop it into the refrigerator.

    It seems fully digestible to me, but I only take it my the tablespoon. (I have also used it to wash my hair, as I have some scalp problems.)

    I doubt that the fermentation does much to the lectins, etc., because fermentation usually doesn’t affect such things much. But at the levels I have consumed them at, I don’t worry much about it.

    More intensive cooking left me with results I didn’t like as much–but they might have been just as beneficial. It’s also harder to monitor what is happening if you use cooked oatmeal as the substrate, since you can’t see the ‘swirl’ in the water.

    Traditionally, most sour porridges were cracked or ground grains that were fermented for a short period and then cooked. This, of course, would kill the bacteria. On the other hand, I’ve begun to question whether live cultures are really that important. The degree of colonization from eating cultures seems to be limited. It may not be the colonization of our guts that is important, but rather the exposure to the bacteria species, dead or alive, and some sort of immune response.

    This may be analogous to the situation where the health benefits of many “antioxidant” fruits and vegetables (blueberries, for example) might have little to do with their antioxidant effects. We may be barking up the wrong tree. In a lot of traditional cooking around the world, things are fermented and then cooked. The ‘live cultures’ theory holds that this would eliminate the main benefits. I’m not so sure.

    Here’s a link to a description of a continuous sour porridge process some folks are using:


    Incidentally, I got on to the idea of using oatmeal as the substrate from some work on L plantarum probiotic beverages in Sweden: It makes sense that Oatmeal (or other plant materials) would be preferred substrates for L plantarum compared to dairy. L plantarum shows up in dairy, but it never seems to be dominant, and my work with L plantarum for yogurt suggests that it can survive and flourish, but it really doesn’t love dairy the way it loves cabbage!

  25. Thank you David. I think I’ll pass on the milk ferment of L. plantarum since it prefers cabbage. Thank you for that bit of knowledge.

    I will look into the fermented porridge. I stopped eating grains on a sort of Paleo/Gaps/WAPF diet. But I recently re-introduced lentils and legumes ( easy-peasy way to get, is it, GOS? …or FOS?) and I have really missed oats. Assuming I tolerate them, a ferment of the whole grain sounds ideal.

    I, too, have read that dead bacteria still positively effect our immune systems; it seems to make intuitive sense. I read it in relation to soaking beans; I believe L. plantarum is a dominant species on the exterior of beans. Soaking them for 24-48 hours (or longer) is actually a ferment; subsequent cooking kills the bacteria but they have done their job for us AND even dead they help us. (I think this was info I read from Tim Steele.)

    Thank you for your help! Look forward to more ferment conversations.

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