Although this information will probably raise the eyebrows of many people, a 2015 study by Psychiatry Research has shown that the consumption of fermented foods, such as pickles, yogurt and sauerkraut, can ease neuroticism and social anxiety. While psychologists have been initially focused on the mind when trying to alleviate mental issues, recent research reveals that the stomach may also be of great importance when it comes to mental health. Scientists at the College of William and Mary joined the University of Maryland and asked over 700 students to fill out questionnaires on their personality traits, a level of social anxiety, and diet. The team found a direct link between the amount of fermented food subjects consumed and the level of social anxiety they felt, meaning that students who consumed more fermented food show less symptoms of social anxiety.
According to Matthew Hilimire, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, “It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety.” He also adds that the fact that microorganisms in the gut can influence the mind is really fascinating.
It has been also concluded that students who ate a diet abundant in fruits and vegetables and exercised on a regular basis had reduced their symptoms. However, this is nothing new, as we all know that healthy diet and regular exercise keep our bodies and minds healthy and functioning optimally. It is the probiotic result that comes much as a shock but many studies confirm that gut microbiome affects the brain, including perceptions and emotions.
The study reads, “The fermented foods so often included in traditional dietary practices have the potential to influence brain health by virtue of the microbial action that has been applied to the food or beverage, and by the ways in which the fermented food or beverage directly influences our own microbiota. This could manifest, behaviorally…”
Good bacteria in fermented foods increase levels of GABA, a chemical in the brain that controls anxiety. This neurotransmitter sends the same neutral pathways as the compounds found in many anti-anxiety drugs. To put it shortly, in a case of social jimjams and anxiety, eating some pickles works the same as taking a pill, or maybe even better.
It is important to mention that the microbial ecosystem in human bodies is not the same, so it won`t work the same way for everyone. Researchers are still doing studies to identify the link between fermented foods and anxiety and are especially interested in creating the version of the study to look at using fermented foods vs probiotic supplements to target anxiety. In fact, clinical trials of probiotic substances had also pointed to potential mental health benefits, but those results are less clear-cut.
According to Hilimire, “Assuming similar findings in the experimental follow-up, what it would suggest is that you could augment more traditional therapies (like medications, psychotherapy or a combination of the two) with fermented foods — dietary changes — and exercise as well.”