5 Incredible Benefits of Bacteria

5 Incredible Benefits of Bacteria

At a food stand outside of Boston Public Market trying out some samples! 

At a food stand outside of Boston Public Market trying out some samples! 

At a glance

Discover what I have learned from Boston Fermentation Festival can help you improve your health and happiness. 

You’ll learn

  • How your poop can determine the health of your body and save lives.
  • Why your skin needs bacteria to restore balance.
  • Why staying germ-free will take you further away from (not closer to) health.
  • Why fermented foods are healing.
  • How to nourish your mood with fermentation.

Let’s begin.

Had I not started my vegetable fermentation book project, I would not be showing so much respect for bacteria. These days, I’ve been trying my best to honor their existence by improving my diet and lifestyle. I’m thankful that this project led me to Boston Fermentation Festival, a Boston-based annual free event hosted by Boston Ferments, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and connecting people via fermentation.

In 2015, I visited the Festival for the first time and was deeply fascinated by the exhibits, talks and good vibes in Boston Public Market (the event venue). In 2016, I became a volunteer to help pedestrians make sauerkraut on the spot. And in 2017, after my I published my book, I was at the author book-signing corner sharing my knowledge and answering questions.

Over the years, I’ve gradually come to realize how important it is for more people to receive the same education given in this whole-day event every year. Below are some highlights from the Festival that will help you rethink how you should see your body, change the way you eat, and adjust your overall lifestyle.

Seriously, Your Poop Can Save Lives

Science Corner is dedicated to educating the public on the science behind fermentation and microbial activities. Never heard of fecal transplantation? Then you will learn more about it at the Corner from OpenBiome, a non-profit organization that helps collect stool samples from healthy donors to support physicians in fecal microbiota transplants.

A tweet by a visitor who watched their demonstration on the fecal sample processing by OpenBiome team

A tweet by a visitor who watched their demonstration on the fecal sample processing by OpenBiome team

The goal is to improve treatments for patients who suffer from Clostridium difficile (also known as C. diff) infection, a potentially life-threatening form of illness that can cause serious inflammation of the colon.

You may check out the following video (15:49 – 16:42) to learn how fecal transplantation immediately helps C. diff patients restore health in just one day.

Your colon hosts a multitude of microbes crucial to your health. For example, Bifidobacteria in the colon produce lactic acid to provide the energy required by cells that line the intestine wall and to kill harmful bacteria. They produce vitamins B and K and help the body effectively absorb minerals such as calcium, copper, magnesium, and iron (source). In addition, 70-80% of your immune system resides in your gut and healthy microbiota interacts with your genes to help them express in a disease-fighting way (source).

To have a quick understanding of your gut microbes, watch this clip (2:40 - 4:25).

What you can do

Are you taking good care of your microbial allies? Whether your answer is yes or not, you may consider eating raw fermented foods (such as fermented vegetables, miso, yogurt and a form of fermented milk called kefir) to maintain and strengthen their health and well-being inside your body.

Bacteria Can Maintain Your Skin Health

Also at Science Corner, I was fascinated by Mother Dirt, a line of products for skin care and skin health targeted at restoring and maintaining the balance of the skin biome (or, skin bacteria). It was founded in 2014 and is owned by a biotech company called AOBiome.

My visit to the Festival in 2015 when I first heard of Mother Dirt

My visit to the Festival in 2015 when I first heard of Mother Dirt

Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB), mostly found in dirt and untreated water, consume irritating components of the sweat and turn them into beneficial byproducts to the skin (nitrite and nitric oxide).

According to Mother Dirt, "Nitrite helps keep bad bacteria in check and Nitric Oxide is an antioxidant that helps calm and soothe the skin. This action can help restore balance to the skin's ecosystem and in turn reduce dependence on conventional products like soaps, moisturizers, and deodorants."

Unfortunately, they are wiped out by modern hygiene and lifestyles such as the use of anti-bacterial soap, and other personal care products loaded with un-bacteria-friendly ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate.

The discovery of Mother Dirt has helped me rethink about protecting skin health and reflect on how I live my life (particularly the environments the skin is exposed to) is impacting my skin. We are blessed by invisible allies that protect our skin health. Bacteria that reside on your skin can be just as beneficial and crucial as the gut bacteria inside of you.

What you can do

Whether or not you are considering buying products from the company, the bottom line is to opt for personal care products with natural ingredients and avoid harsh chemicals that can kill your friendly invisible allies. Environmental Working Group has a database to help you learn ingredients on the product labels and recommend trusted sources. You can learn more at www.ewg.org/skindeep.

Because AOB are a microorganism abundant in lakes, rivers, and soil, it suggests to me that we should start embracing more earth-friendly activities, such as gardening, growing indoor plants, camping, and even owning a dog (because they like to roll in the mud!).

Updated on October 26, 2017: at this point, I am still learning about their products and will update this blog if I decide to give their products a try.

Bacteria and Your Body Are Interconnected

At Speaker Series, I used to attend a talk by Dr. Maya Shetreat on “how microbes confer health and well-being”. The key idea is that the health of microbes determines the quality of soil, plants, and animals, thus impacting human health. I was intrigued by the concept that all elements on earth are closely tied to one another. Immediately after her talk, I bought her book - <Dirt Cure> -- at the author book-signing corner.

A tweet I shared during the talk given by Dr. Maya Shetreat&nbsp;

A tweet I shared during the talk given by Dr. Maya Shetreat 

While there is so much wisdom in the book, here are three highlights that were also mentioned in her talk on that day:

First, the whole package of living elements – sunshine, truly fresh food, soil, and all sorts of microbes – are the foundation for vibrant health. Next, your gut is just as important as your brain. For example, as the book says, “your gut produces three quarters of your body’s neurotransmitters”. Third, the more diverse the microbial community around and within you, the better health you will enjoy.

What you can do

To regain health for adults and children, we need to rethink our relationship with dirt and soil. Instead of avoiding dirt, learn how to preserve its high quality and opt for fresh organic foods if you can to avoid pesticides. 

In addition, get into nature. Like how you can restore AOB to your skin, participate in more earth-friendly actives that allow you to expose yourself to an earthy environment as mentioned above.

You can also increase your microbial diversity by starting to acquaint yourself with a variety of raw fermented foods. It’s also about limiting activities that can threaten your microbial balance such as the overuse of antibiotics and hand sanitizers and consuming packaged products loaded with additives and hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils (also known as trans fats).

Fermented Foods Can Heal You

Fermentation Help Desk is a place where fermentation experts take turns to answer any question or address any concern there is related to fermentation. This is a time when visitors can have face-to-face conversations with authors and other experts.

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I met Donna Schwenk, author of <Cultured Food for Life> and <Cultured Food for Health>, in 2015 at the Help Desk and learned so much from her on how eating fermented foods can lead to better health. For example, fermented foods can have powerful healing benefits such as relieving seasonal allergy, balancing hormones, and improving your energy level.

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What you can do

It is important to consume prebiotics (such as foods rich in dietary fiber) to feed the existing bacteria inside the body. Also, remember that less is more – to enjoy the benefits of fermented foods, eat them only in moderation. You can check out my interview with her for more details.

Fermentation Can Be A Lot Of Fun

Probably the most fun part of the event is inviting pedestrians to stop by and make their own krauts on the spot with provided utensils, ingredients, and guidance. They can even take home what they make. The organizers call it Kraut Mob.

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Another fun thing to do is try out food samples. Friendly and happy faces are everywhere. Creative blends of different fermented flavors are offered – I didn’t know fermented onions and tahini can make such a wonderful tortilla dip! I particularly enjoy the earthy vibe there: lots of sunshine, organic vegetables, clay pots, aprons, food jars, and wooden tables.

The moment when I fell in love with fermented onions mixed with tahini...

The moment when I fell in love with fermented onions mixed with tahini...

What’s more, we should all learn to seek joy in cooking. I met Kirsten Shockey, author of <Fermented Vegetables> and <Fiery Fermentation>, the first time in 2015 while she was giving a talk on making fermented vegetables. I learned that, while science and proper practice are important, we should not forget to have fun in the process: be willing to explore, be creative, and appreciate the colors in veggies. I am inspired to look at vegetable fermentation from not just a scientific perspective, but an artistic and more intuitive angle as well.

What you can do

Boston Ferments really made the learning of fermentation into a community event full of fun, joy, and laughter. You will enjoy your experience more if you join a community and explore the same thing together. Try looking around to see if there are similar activities offered in your neighborhood.

I suggest doing a quick search on Facebook, your local library website, meetup.com, or Eventbrite.com for public free events. Or maybe just simply type in some keywords in Google and let it do the work for you. That’s how I found Boston Fermentation Festival in the first place.

Bacteria are not the enemies of health. Instead, they are your allies.

After you’ve learned all these, I do highly recommend you check out Boston Fermentation Festival. This festival has definitely claimed a special spot in my heart. It’s an event that has given me so many eye-opening and thought-provoking insights and connected me to great people. I hope it does the same to you.


  • Gut bacteria are a crucial part of your immune system. Your gut is as important as your brain.
  • Skin bacteria can calm and soothe the skin. Therefore, protect them by minimizing the use of skincare products loaded with harsh chemicals.
  • A microbe-friendly diet includes raw fermented foods (e.g. fermented vegetables, miso, yogurt, and kefir) and fiber-rich foods. The consumption of these two good groups can improve your overall health.
  • A solid foundation for vibrant health should include sunshine, truly fresh foods, exposure to high-quality soil, and a diverse microbial community.
  • Find a community to start having some fun with fermentation.

My challenge to you

What is one thing you will do to improve your diet or lifestyle after reading what I’ve just shared? Leave a comment and I’d love to know about it!


Stay well and don’t forget to be kind to your microbes,

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