For thousands of years, people have consumed fermented foods and beverages. Today, many people still make delicious fermented foods part of their diet.
Recent studies show how fermenting foods not only enhances flavor intensity, but it also increases the health benefits of organic foods. Fermenting foods lends to the greater bioavailability of nutrients and improvements in gastrointestinal health. Now, researchers from the University of Maryland and the College of William & Mary suggest another benefit from fermented food consumption: Teens who eat such foods have fewer bouts of social anxiety.
About the Study
A team of researchers performed the study, including Matthew R. Hilimire Ph.D., an assistant professor from the College of William & Mary’s Department of Psychology; Dr. Jordan DeVylder, an assistant professor from the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work, and the Associate Professor and Undergraduate Studies Director from William & Mary’s College: Catherine Forestell. The group’s findings appear in the August 2015 issue of the journal Psychiatry Research.
In the article “Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interactive model,” the researchers explain the possible link between probiotic-rich fermented foods intake and the reduction in the symptoms of social anxiety. Rather than taking the traditional route of attributing the symptoms of anxiety to an issue of the mind, this new study suggests an imbalance in gut bacteria may contribute to anxiety-related conditions and symptoms. According to Hilimire, the probiotics found in fermented food choices are altering the gut’s environment in positive ways. When microorganisms change the balance of bacteria in the gut, it affects mind functioning and leads to a reduction in social anxiety-related symptoms.
Nearly 700 students took part in the study. A questionnaire was the primary means of gathering information. In 2014, the researchers gave students the questionnaire while they were in college-level Introduction to Psychology courses. There were questions about the student’s fermented food intake during the month before the study. Other questions examined the students’ consumption of veggies and fruits as well as how often they exercised. Questions about the intake of non-fermented foods allowed researchers to establish a control for any healthy eating habits students had besides the intake of fermented foods.
The Benefits of Fermented Foods & Exercise
The study reveals those teens who were prone to neuroticism and who were consuming more fermented food choices were experiencing fewer incidents of social anxiety. An additional finding reasserts the benefits of regular exercise since a decrease in social anxiety symptoms seem to parallel an increase in the students’ exercise frequency.
A causative link between fermented food intake and reduced social anxiety is not possible at this time because the study has yet to move into the experimental phase. However, Hilimire is quick to assert past experimental work involving animals and humans related to depression and anxiety studies are suggestive. Hilimire goes on to explain that such studies point to fermented food intake and increased exercise levels as a causative mechanism in social anxiety reduction. If researchers can identify a causative link through the experimentation phase, it could mean that traditional treatments for anxiety, including psychotherapy, medications, or both, can also be used with dietary changes, including the intake of fermented foods, and exercise to treat social anxiety-related symptoms.