Fermented Foods May Help Reduce Symptoms of Social Anxiety

Health Writer

Eatingfermented foods, which contain probiotics, may help to decrease social anxiety symptomsaccording to a new study, which is scheduled to be published in the August 2015 issue of the journal Psychiatry Research.

Researchers at William & Mary teamed up with Assistant Professor Jordan DeVylder from the University of Maryland School of Social Work to see if increasing “good bacteria” in your gut could have an effect on social anxiety. About 700 students participated in the study. The students completed questionnaires about eating and exercise habits in the past 30 days, including specific questions on fermented foods, fruits and vegetables.

The results showed that those students who consumed more fermented foods had lower levels of social anxiety. This was even more prevalent for those who showed more neuroticism, or had higher levels of social anxiety in the beginning of the study. The results also confirmed that regular exercise helped to lower levels of anxiety, but this was considered a secondary finding.

The Mind-Gut Connection

Fermented foods have an abundance of beneficial lactic acid bacteria, which are healthy bacteria and help to improve digestion. But in recent years, scientists have been looking at what is called the mind-gut relationship. We already accepted that stress can cause gastrointestinal problems, for example, high stress often causes diarrhea or you feel butterflies in your stomach when nervous. But, it is more difficult to imagine  that the connection goes both ways and the problems in the digestive tract causing you to feel anxiety or depression. Other studieshave also shown that the connection does indeed work in both directions and that imbalances in the gut bacteria can contribute to anxiety and depression symptoms.

Examples of Fermented Foods

A number of dairy products contain probiotics:

  • Yogurt (be sure to look for yogurt that indicates “active cultures” that are made from L. Acidophilus bacteria cultures
  • Cottage cheese
  • Whey
  • Kefir

Other fermented foods:

  • Pickled products, such as pickled cucumbers, garlic, beets, radishes, and corn relish. Many commercial products have gone through the pasteurization process, which kills off bacteria. You can pickle vegetables at home to avoid pasteurization.
  • Naturally fermented and unpasteurized beer
  • Soy sauce
  • Korean kimchi
  • Natto
  • Tempeh

You can also eat lactic acid yeast wafers (sold in health food stores) to increase the “good bacteria” in your intestines or talk with your doctor about probiotic supplements.

For more information:

Can Fast Food Make You Depressed? A HealthCentral Explainer

Does What You Eat Really Impact Your Mood?

Foods That Can Boost Your Mood