Can adding more fermented foods to your diet benefit your mental health? It seems it might, say researchers from the University of Maryland and the College of William & Mary. They recently completed a joint study linking the consumption of fermented foods to reduced social anxiety among young adults.
More than 700 college students participated in the study, and each was asked to fill out a detailed questionnaire that inquired about dietary habits—especially fermented food consumption—as well as how often they exercised. The main finding, according to researchers, was that that young adults who ate more fermented foods displayed fewer symptoms of social anxiety, particularly those with a genetic predisposition toward anxiety disorders.
At the heart of it all is what scientists call the gut-brain connection—the relationship between our gut bacteria and healthy brain function. The more scientists learn about the trillions of different microbes that reside in our intestinal tract, the more they are beginning to understand how closely linked the human microbiome is to healthy brain function, mood, and behavior.
“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,” said William & Mary Psychology Professor Matthew Hilimire. He and his colleagues plan to continue investigating the gut-brain connection in a series of upcoming studies.
We know good nutrition plays a key role in physical health, but we often forget how connected it is to our mental health. Researchers believe new findings such as these point to the possibility that low-risk nutritional changes may be part of a comprehensive strategy to promote optimal mental health.