The Power of Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits when consumed or applied to the body. They can be found in yogurt and other fermented foods, dietary supplements, and beauty products. They can also be found in soil.

Probiotics may contain a variety of microorganisms. The most common are bacteria that belong to groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Other bacteria may also be used as probiotics, as are some yeasts such as Saccharomyces boulardii.

It is estimated our bodies house an estimated 100 trillion “good” bacteria, many of which reside in our gut. These bacteria are essential for our survival. They play an enormous role in our overall health.

A review of the many documented health benefits include:

  • A review titled “Effect of Probiotics on Central Nervous System Functions in Animals and Humans: A Systematic Review” concluded that common strains of probiotic bacteria found in some fermented foods “showed efficacy in improving psychiatric disorder-related behaviors including anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and memory abilities, including spatial and non-spatial memory.” They also concluded that certain probiotics could affect the gut brain interaction, from the vagus nerve, aka as the “traveling nerve”. This nerve originates at the brainstem and travels to almost every organ of your body. It is a part of the autonomic nervous system. Many of the strains of probiotic bacteria used in the research can be found in active culture yogurt and lacto fermented vegetables. There are probiotic supplements on the market, however the most concentrated form is in foods.
  • Improves glycemic control
  • Lowers inflammation
  • Improves immune function
  • Manufacture of vitamin K2- This vitamin, not to be confused with vitamin K1 which is responsible for blood to clot, k2 is a powerful transporter of calcium from the bloodstream and into the bones and teeth and prevents calcification of arteries and in kidneys. It is found most abundantly in natto, a fermented product. Other sources include cheese, beef liver, chicken, butter, sauerkraut.
  • Butyrate is a naturally occurring short chain fatty acid found in the lower intestine and is used by the lining of the intestine as an energy source. It is found in kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, breast milk, apple cider vinegar and resistant starches- cooked and cooled rice, potatoes, oats, etc. Butyrate also:
  1. Helps stabilize blood sugar levels
  2. Protects brain from diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  3. Protects against cancer
  4. Can help prevent obesity
  • Saccharomyces boulardii, a probiotic found in supplement form and in fermented foods is commonly used in treatment of childhood rotaviral diarrhea and diarrhea resulting from antibiotic use. The brand Florastor is the most common probiotic used.
  • Kombucha, a fizzy drink made from tea, sugar and a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) provides B vitamins and acetic acid, which kills pathogenic bacteria.

A word about prebiotics

Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. While probiotics are live bacteria that provide health benefits, prebiotics act as food for probiotics and help them survive and thrive. Examples are fiber from fermented foods, whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, avocados and artichokes.

Foods highest in prebiotic fiber are chicory root, garlic and dandelion.

- Brooke Lounsbury

Medical Content Writer

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Sauerkraut Basics

Making sauerkraut or any fermented vegetable can be fun, nutritious, and rewarding.

A few pointers will help you achieve success

  • Use filtered or bottled water- Tap water contains antibacterial agents to inhibit harmful growth of bacteria. The same antibacterial agents kill only harmful but also beneficial bacteria.

Well water needs to be filtered also. It can contain naturally occurring minerals or even bacteria that can spoil the ferment.

  • Salt- make sure your salt doesn’t contain anti caking agents(read label- here is a list of anti caking agents on this website). Most of the time you are able to just read the salt ingredients and figure it out. There should be nothing but salt listed as an ingredient. Non iodized salt is best- Himalayan, kosher or table salt are the best options for your salt. Salt helps curb the bacterial overgrowth and regulates fermentation process. For sauerkraut a 2% salt brine is needed. Other vegetables call for varying percentages. Handy brine calculator can be found here: The probiotic jar. Or, you can add 3 tablespoons salt to every 5 lbs cabbage. Personally, I have never weighed salt, just added salt to the cabbage
  • The higher the vegetable quality the more success you will have– When shopping for vegetables to ferment, try to pick organic, or spray free vegetables. If able, locally sourced cabbage is best. If you are not able to find organic or spray free cabbage the next best thing is to remove and discard first few outer leaves. This will remove a good portion of chemical contamination that can prevent successful fermentation.
  • Clean all items that come in contact with cabbage- this includes your fermentation vessel along with knives, cutting boards and hands. Thoroughly wash knives and all items that will come in contact with the cabbage. This practice helps prevent introducing bacterial contamination into your sauerkraut which can ruin all your hard work.
  • Adequate storage area while it ferments and heat- Sauerkraut ferments best in room temperature (62-75 degrees) and no direct sunlight area of the home. A kitchen cupboard or on a counter out of direct sunlight is some areas that work well.
  • Patience- Sauerkraut goes through 3 stages of the fermentation process to achieve the probiotic and enzyme rich delicious tasting product. This process takes at least 3 weeks, If the room temperature is cooler this can take longer. The longer the cabbage is allowed to ferment the more healthy probiotic bacteria are in the product.

The stages of fermentation (these days are approximate)

Sauerkraut can be store for years if stored in a cool, dark environment

Stage 1 Days 1-5, the start of lactic acid fermentation.

Salt tolerant bacteria produce carbon dioxide. This transforms the fermentation vessel into an anaerobic environment. They break down available sugars to produce lactic acid, acetic acid (vinegar), ethyl alcohol, and mannitol, along with carbon dioxide, which are the bubbles you see floating to the surface along with brine being pushed out of the jar. The carbon dioxide to helps create an anaerobic fermentation environment by displacing any trapped oxygen.

Stage 2 Days 5-16 This phase starts once the bubbles have subsided

Lactic acid production takes place. Lactic acid acts as a preservative, supports digestion, inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria, increases the bio-availability of Vitamin C, produces enzymes, and much more

Stage 3 Days 16- 21 Ph drops and health promoting bacteria continue to flourish

The sauerkraut continues to age, and the ph drops to between 3.1 and 3.7. This acidic environment helps preserve the sauerkraut and allows the growth of the health promoting lactic acid bacteria.

Lets get started

Assemble supplies

You will need:

  • Cabbage
  • Water
  • Cutting board
  • Sharp knife
  • Salt
  • Scale to weigh salt (if you prefer to go that route)
  • Kraut pounder (or clean fist to pound cabbage into the vessel)
  • Fermentation vessel- this can be as simple as a clean mason jar or as elaborate as a fermentation crock- I tend to use my canning jars-they are inexpensive so I can make several ferments without breaking the bank.
  • Fermentation is an anaerobic (without air) process. In order to avoid spoilage, the cabbage must be completely submerged under liquid. Some people use glass fermentation stones. Others use bubble airlock sets, which is my personal preference. The glass stones tend to shift and allow air to the cabbage. The airlocks create an anaerobic environment if they are used properly. Another method is to used cabbage leaves on top of the packed cabbage, press firmly. Make sure cabbage is submerged, add stones or other weights.(a plastic bag tied off with water can be used as weight also- I have used the is method on occasion)

To make sauerkraut

The very best way to get started is to watch this video on “The complete beginners guide to fermenting foods at home”

  1. Thinly slice cabbage. You can add some carrot or a bit of garlic or hot pepper for flavor and color. I personally use the 3 tablespoons to 5 lbs cabbage method. A more precise way to ferment is to make the 2% brine solution. Link above to calculate.

2. Add salt, massage cabbage, let set in bowl for 20 minutes to 1 hour. Liquid will form in bottom of vessel.

3. Tightly pack cabbage into fermentation vessel, add the liquid that formed from massaging the cabbage. If needed add 2 percent salt brine to thoroughly cover the cabbage. Press down the cabbage, making sure there ae no air pockets trapped in the jar.

4. Add airlock or stones. Make sure that the cabbage is thoroughly submerged Place vessel in a shallow bowl or on a plate to catch any overflow from fermentation bubbles for the first week or so.

5. Set in a room temperature environment, away from direct sunlight.

6. Check daily to make sure the cabbage is submerged under the liquid. If needed, add brine to keep submerged.

7. The sauerkraut should be ready after 3 weeks. Store in refrigerator. This will slow down the fermentation process.

Once you have mastered sauerkraut, there is a whole world of fermented foods out there to try and enjoy. From kefir to fermented condiments (catsup, mustard, pickles) to kombucha and more.

Warning: Fermentation can be addicting!


- Brooke Lounsbury

Medical Content Writer

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Add These Superfoods to Your Pantry

For thousands of years fermented foods have been consumed by nearly every culture in the world. These health promoting foods have historically been used to ward off disease and promote health. Before the advent of refrigeration vegetables were stored in root cellars, dehydrated, made into hard tack, canned  or fermented. Long winters deprived Northern climates of fresh vegetables and the abundant vitamins in them. In Northern European countries fermented fish and fish products were common and provided a way to preserve fish to help carry the population through to the next harvest. Fermented fish sauces are a staple in Korean and Asian cuisine. Barm, a byproduct of beer making is a yeast that has been historically used in the production of bread. This form of yeast dates to late 1500s and most possibly has its roots even further back in time. Eventually this type of yeast was formed into cakes that needed to be refrigerated and was sold commercially. When America entered World War II, Fleischmann Laboratories developed and manufactured Active Dry Yeast, specifically to ensure GIs could enjoy home-baked bread. Unlike their original compressed yeast cake, the new Fleischmann’s Yeast did not require refrigeration and was activated quickly with warm water. Another method of yeast bread baking is sourdough bread. This type of fermentation involves using water, flour, warmth and time to allow yeast to grow in the culture. Kvass a fermented drink originating either in Ukraine or Russia is made from rye bread ends and water and dates back as far as 996,and is mentioned in Vladimir the Greats baptism. Mesoamerican native cultures- Aztec, Toltecs, Incas and others enjoyed chocolate, which is made from fermented cacao beans and dates to over 4000 years ago. Tepache is a popular Mexican fizzy drink made from pineapples.

Other fermented foods include

  • Kombucha- a drink originating in China, dating as far back, perhaps even further back than 220bc
  • Natto- fermented soybean usually added to rice as a breakfast item dates back to the 11th century in Japan
  • Sauerkraut-Adopted by Germans; however the first sauerkraut was made with rice wine and cabbage in China over 2,000 years ago
  • Milk kefir- Kefir grains, which are used to activate fresh milk and start the fermentation process is believed to originate in China over 4,000 years ago
  • Other fermented products include cheeses, pickles, yogurt, cottage cheese, miso, cured meats, etc.

Types of fermentation

There are 3 types of fermentation

  1. Lactic acid or lacto fermentation

Lacto-Fermentation is arguably one of the most common types found in food. Lactic acid fermentation is responsible for the production of foods like sauerkraut, blue cheese, salami and other fermented meats.

  1. Ethanol and alcohol fermentation

When fermenting grain, the by product  is yeast Barm, which is used in bread baking. Examples of ethanol and alcohol fermentation are beer, mead, wine and cider.

  1. Acetic acid fermentation

Some varieties of grains and and sugars ferment to produce sour vinegar and sauces. Apple cider vinegar, wine vinegar, and kombucha are examples of acetic acid fermentation.

Health benefits of fermented foods

The foundation of lacto fermented foods is lactic acid bacteria (LAB), This beneficial bacterium, along with other microorganisms formed during fermentation have displayed some amazing health benefits:

  • Through chemical processes help lower blood pressure
  • Powerful antioxidant properties
  • Powerful antibacterial properties
  • Anti-fungal
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Increases vitamin content, especially B, K2 and C vitamins ( For example, fresh cabbage has about 30 mg vitamin C per cup, fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) has between 600-700 mg per cup according to a Cornell University study)
  • Maintain a healthy gut microbiota
  • Anti-carcinogenic
  • Improve mental health- especially anxiety
  • Assists in neutralizing phytates, which in turn helps the body absorb nutrients

Next post we will delve into their specific health promoting qualities of fermented foods and how to make a simple sauerkraut. *Downloadable pdf of detailed instructions.

- Brooke Lounsbury

Medical Content Writer

Lifesaving Medications

Everyone should be empowered to care for themselves and their loved ones during the unexpected.

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