Food Science and Technology Department


Date of this Version



The Journal of Nutrition.


Open access.


Background: Live dietary microbes have been hypothesized to contribute to human health but direct evidence is lacking.

Objectives: This study aimed to determine whether the dietary consumption of live microbes is linked to improved health outcomes.

Methods: Data from the NHANES 2001–2018 were used to assess microbial intake and their adjusted associations with selected physiological parameters (e.g., blood pressure, anthropometric measures, and biomarkers) among adults aged 19 y and older. Regression models were constructed to assess the microbial intake with each physiological parameter and adjusted for demographics and other covariates. Microbial intake was assessed as both a continuous variable and a 3-level categorical variable. Fermented foods were assessed in a separate model.

Results: In continuous models, an additional 100-g intake of microbe–containing foods was associated with a lower systolic blood pressure (regression coefficient: -0.331; 95% CI: -0.447, -0.215 mm Hg), C-reactive protein (-0.013; 95% CI: -0.019, -0.008 mg/dL), plasma glucose -0.347; 95% CI: -0.570, -0.124 mg/dL), plasma insulin (-0.201; 95% CI: -0.304, -0.099 μU/mL), triglyceride (-1.389; 95% CI: -2.672, -0.106 mg/dL), waist circumference (-0.554; 95% CI: -0.679, -0.428 cm), and BMI -0.217; 95% CI: -0.273, -0.160 kg/m2) levels and a higher level of high density lipoprotein cholesterols (0.432; 95% CI: 0.289, 0.574 mg/dL). Patterns were broadly similar when microbial intake was assessed categorically and when fermented foods were assessed separately.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this study is the first to quantify, in a nationally representative data set of American adults and using stable sets of covariates in the regression models, the adjusted associations of dietary intakes of live microbes with a variety of outcomes, such as anthropometric measures, biomarkers, and blood pressure levels. Our findings suggest that foods with higher microbial concentrations are associated with modest health improvements across a range of outcomes.

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