Eating Fermented Foods May Help Alleviate Social Anxiety

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There is a growing pile of research indicating that anxiety and depression may be triggered or worsened by poor gut health.

Even social anxiety may be reduced or prevented by making sure our intestinal bacteria are in balance, according to a study published in Psychiatry Research.

In this study, individuals with a genetic predisposition for anxiety had fewer symptoms of social anxiety if they consumed plenty of fermented foods. Scientists already know that fermented foods are a probiotic, stimulating the growth of beneficial microorganisms in our intestines.

“Taken together with previous studies, the results suggest that fermented foods that contain probiotics may have a protective effect against social anxiety symptoms for those at higher genetic risk...,” concluded the researchers.

How Gut Health Affects Mood

How fermented foods may help alleviate social anxiety has to do with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis* (HPA).

The HPA is the communication pathway between the brain and gut, and having healthy intestinal bacteria early in life is thought to be essential for the development of our HPA. It has already been established that an HPA imbalance can cause exaggerated stress responses, altering our brain hormones, and neurotransmitters.

“This may be one of the reasons why mood disorders such as depression and anxiety and even autism have been tied to [microbial imbalance] and why administering probiotics helps improve these conditions,” says Dr. Gerard Mullin, author of The Gut Balance Revolution.

Keeping Our Gut Bacteria Happy

Though a causal link between eating probiotic foods and improved social anxiety has not been established, the current study supports many others that suggest healthy brains and stable moods may begin with healthy guts.

We can care for our intestines by eating more fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, and fermented miso. Our beneficial gut bacteria also thrive on non-digestible carbs - also known as fiber - which we get from eating whole fruits and fresh veggies such as bananas, onions, and asparagus.

“This class of fiber is so important because your gut bugs love to eat these fiber-rich and fermentable carbs, and when they get them, they send out ‘happy’ messages encouraging your body to produce these chemicals in the right amounts,” says Dr. Mullin.

Sources: Rodale Wellness; Psychiatry Journal
Photo credit: Mattie Hagedorn

*The hypothalamus is part of the brain, our pituitary gland regulates several hormones, and adrenals govern the body’s stress reactions.

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