Fermented anything is popular right now—and the trend has officially expanded beyond kombucha and kimchi. The latest: fermented supplements.
Should you add fermented pills and powders to your routine? Turns out, they may offer some unique benefits.
How Fermentation Works
You’ve probably heard that fermented foods are good for you. What ‘fermentation’ actually means, though, is probably still pretty murky.
Simply put: “Fermentation is a metabolic process in which one substance is broken down into a simpler substance,” explains Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N., dietitian for The Vitamin Shoppe and Only Me. Usually, lactic acid, bacteria, yeast, or enzymes make this fermentation magic happen.
When it comes to supplements, specifically, the exact fermentation method can vary from product to product, Blakely says. The brand New Chapter, for example, creates fermented supplements by adding vitamins, minerals, and whole foods to a yeast solution. The yeasts then begin to break down these nutrients. From there, New Chapter adds enzymes from tropical fruits and probiotics to complete the fermentation process.
Why Take Fermented Supplements?
Since fermentation essentially ‘pre-digests’ nutrients, the good stuff in fermented supplements may be more bioavailable. Basically, that means they’re easier for the body to absorb and utilize.
“Some people find traditional vitamin and mineral supplements harsh, and experience nausea or digestive upset after taking them,” Blakely says. (Taking supplements on an empty stomach often exacerbates this.)
Why? The cell walls of certain nutrients we take can be difficult to break down. “Usually our body can do it to some extent—just not necessarily efficiently,” explains Blakely. Some people who have weaker immune systems, though, may not be able to do it at all. In these cases, in addition to causing digestive issues, some of a supplement’s nutrients may pass through the body unabsorbed.
Plus, the fermentation process can actually create certain nutrients (namely B vitamins), contributing to the benefits of fermented supplements.
Who Can Benefit From Taking Fermented Supplements?
“Anyone looking to get the best absorption out of their supplements can benefit from taking a fermented option,” says Blakely. However, fermented supplements can be especially beneficial for people with digestive issues.
“Someone with a compromised gut may have trouble breaking down the nutrients in traditional supplements,” Blakely explains. “Someone else, meanwhile, may have trouble absorbing them.” Since fermented supplements are easier on the system, people with acid reflux, IBS, or other digestive conditions benefit from them most.
If you tend to take supplements on an empty stomach (or would if they didn’t cause upset), fermented options may also be a great fit for you.
Fermented Supplements Worth Trying
You’ll find all sorts of fermented supplements out there these days, but some of the most common are multivitamins and minerals, letter vitamins, and various herbal and plant products (like mushrooms, turmeric, and maca), says Blakely.
New Chapter’s new line of fermented letter vitamins, for example, offers organic nutrients fermented with synergistic herbs and whole foods to enhance the overall benefits of each supplement.
Though fermented mushroom complex supplements (which contain multiple types of mushrooms) have become popular, plnt brand’s new line of fermented single mushrooms allows you to pick and choose the specific types of fermented mushrooms you want to supplement with.
A Note On Fermented Supplements VS. Fermented Foods
Although fermented foods and supplements both undergo the fermentation process, they are not one and the same.
“Fermented supplements are specific nutrients that have been fermented to increase bioavailability,” reminds Blakely. They are beneficial for meeting specific nutrient needs or filling nutritional gaps in your diet.
Some products may contain whole-food ingredients in order to simulate real-food composition. However, they are still far from whole foods. Fermented foods, meanwhile, “contain all of the synergistic nutrients created by nature,” says Blakely. “This includes the calories, fats, carbs, and protein that food provides.”
Some fermented foods also contain significant amounts of healthy bacteria called probiotics. Fermented supplements contain few probiotics, if any at all.
Given that, regularly incorporating fermented foods into your diet is still important for supporting your overall health, says Blakely.