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Can live cultures help with bloating?

Posted 5 years ago by Jo

The term 'live cultures' is often used in relation to natural bacteria and probiotics. Here I aim to explore exactly what is meant by term, how it fits into the field of bacteria and probiotics, and whether live cultures and probiotics may be helpful with bloating.

Are live cultures and probiotics the same? 

Many people use the terms 'live cultures' and 'probiotics' interchangeably when strictly speaking there is a difference between the two.  'Probiotics' describe a food or food supplement that has been shown to have a health benefit (usually shown in clinical trials). For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM would be termed a 'probiotic' as it has been clinically trialled and shown to have human health benefits. Live cultures are microorganisms which are potentially good, but the terms does not indicate or guarantee that these microorganisms have been well-researched for a specific benefit. The term live cultures could also include neutral bacteria with little or no impact on our health. As an example, live natural yoghurt is a food containing live cultures (micoorganisms which haven't necessarily been tested to show a human health benefit) yet it is often described as a probiotic food, as it often will likely have probiotic properties (that is to say, eating yoghurt probably will help with one's digestion!) Live natural yogurt is considered a health food by those who can tolerate dairy products and is known to contain potentially beneficial bacteria

Live yogurt

Live yoghurt, often described as a probiotic food, could more accurately be described as containing live cultures 

How can live cultures help reduce bloating?

It is believed that live cultures are beneficial for our health, specifically in terms of our digestion. As our digestion makes up as much as 70% of our immune system, by looking after our digestion we are also able to support our immunity and potentially reduce susceptibility to disease. Consuming live cultures may help reduce dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut) and encourage growth of beneficial bacteria in our gut.

There is a strong belief that eating foods with live cultures have a general nutritional advantage and can actively boost our health. The best way to determine if live cultures are able to help reduce your bloating and improve your health is to try them. Give it a go, you may be pleasantly surprised!  Don't forget to comment below with your thoughts if you do.

Where can I get live cultures?

I now aim to explore a number of foods containing live cultures that may be beneficial for helping to relieve digestive symptoms, such as bloating. Foods highest in live cultures are fermented foods. In many cultures fermented foods make up a significant proportion of the daily diet and have done for thousands of years. There are many different variations of fermented foods unique to specific countries and below are some of the more common foods you may be familiar with.


As I mentioned briefly above, live natural yoghurt is made by adding numbers of bacteria to milk which causes it to ferment. This fermentation helps to thicken the milk and give it the characteristic tangy flavour. The live cultures in the yoghurt are believed to encourage colonisation of the friendly bacteria in our gut which may have a positive effect in reducing bloating. Certainly probiotic yoghurts have been tested and are thought to help reduce bloating, even normal live natural yoghurts will contain live cultures too and may well help to encourage better digestion, and therefore help to reduce the likelihood and intensity of bloating.  Yoghurts containing live cultures have also been found to help with the body's digestion of lactose (and poor break down of lactose in itself can cause bloating) so try incorporating a natural live yoghurt into your daily routine for a few weeks (perhaps with your cereal in the morning) and see if you feel a difference. 


Miso, a traditional Japanese seasoning made of fermented soybeans, is another example of a popular food containing live cultures. It is widely known that miso is a health food and is often referred to as a probiotic food.  Miso soup is a delicious way to enjoy miso, try swapping a coffee for a warming miso soup every now and then - you can buy it at cafes like Pret a Manger, or pick up miso sachets (where you add hot water and stir) from an oriental supermarket. 

Kombucha Tea

Kombucha, a sweetened tea fermented by bacteria and yeasts, is regarded as a probiotic beverage, although it is perhaps more accurately described as a beverage containing live cultures. Something of an acquired taste, the health benefits of Kombucha have been revered for over 2,000 years in Asian cultures and is believed to aid digestion and reduce bloating. It is also said to support liver function and healthy joints.  If you know of a good brand of Kombucha tea, be sure to comment below, as I'd be interested to find one!


Tempeh is a traditional soy product made by culturing and fermenting soybeans into a type of cake. It is originally from Indonesia and is still eaten widely throughout that part of the world as a food staple and a key source of protein. It is not commonly eaten here in the West, but popularity is growing and the potential benefits of the live cultures in tempeh may help to make it part of our regular diet.


Tempeh is a delicious and versatile fermented soybean food containing live cultures


Natto is a traditional Japanese breakfast food containing live cultures. It is made by fermenting soybeans with Bacillus subtillis bacteria wich creates a unique food with a strong smell and flavour and slimy texture. Much like Tempeh, we eat very little Natto in the west, perhaps due to its slimy texture which is something. Despite the potential health benefits of the live cultures found in Natto I sadly don't see it becoming common place on our breakfast tables just yet!  


Yet to gain popularity in the West, Natto is eaten as a breakfast food in Japen, and is rich in live cultures


Kefir is a fermented milk drink made using special kefir "grains", which act as a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter. It is typically made using either cow, goat or sheeps milk depending on the region. Kefir contains live cultures believed to be beneficial for health and may be helpful in reducing bloating and other digestive symptoms.  I have seen clients in the past who really swore by kefir for their digestion, and certainly felt less bloated for drinking it. 


Kefir is a traditional fermented milk product which contains live cultures 


Sauerkraut, which translates from its German roots as "sour cabbage" has gained itself a possibly undue negative reputation.  It is made by fermenting finely sliced cabbage with lactic acid bacteria such as Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. Sauerkraut is widely used as a condiment in many European countries such as Germany and Poland. It makes a fantastic addition to many meals such as salads or hot dishes. If you are buying sauerkraut is it important to avoid pasteurised varieties as many of the live cultures are unable to survive the heating process. 


Sauerkraut has something of a negative reputation yet is tasty and full of live cultures 

If you try out some of these fermented foods for bloating, let us know what you think by commenting below.

Raw & fermented food expert Amy Levin has previously written about the benefits of fermented foods for bloating, including a brilliant recipe for making your own sauerkraut and delicious fermented tomato salsa - so take a look here.  

Can I take live cultures as a supplement?

In addition to finding live cultures in foods it is also of course possible, and may be considered more practical for some, to ensure you are getting adequate levels of live cultures by taking them in supplement form.  OptiBac Probiotics 'One Week Flat' is a supplement containing live cultures, especially designed to target bloating.  If you are interested to find out more about the scientific research behind 'One Week Flat', click here. One Week Flat is a short 7 day course but can safely be taken continuously or used in rotation with any of the other OptiBac Probiotics range, all of which are designed to target certain health conditions. You can read more about probiotics and bloating here.

We would love to hear about your experiences using live cultures or fermented foods to help relieve bloating, or in have any recipes for fermented foods you may like to share. Please feel free to comment below with any feedback. 

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