People who eat more fermented foods have lower social anxiety, a new study finds.
The benefit is particularly noticeable amongst people who are highly neurotic.
Neurotic people are prone to anxiety.
Fermented foods that are a regular part of the Western diet include milk, cheese, yoghurt and bread.
They typically contain probiotics, which are likely behind the benefit.
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Professor Matthew Hilimire, one of the study’s authors, said:
“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.
I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”
The study asked around 700 young adults to keep track of what they ate over a month.
The researchers controlled for how much exercise people did and how healthily they ate.
Dr DeVylder explained the results:
“The main finding was that individuals who had consumed more fermented foods had reduced social anxiety but that was qualified by an interaction by neuroticism.
What that means is that that relationship was strongest amongst people that were high in neuroticism.”
The study also found that the more exercise people did, the lower their social anxiety.
The researchers are planning an experiment to back up the results of this survey.
Dr DeVylder said:
“However, if we rely on the animal models that have come before us and the human experimental work that has come before us in other anxiety and depression studies, it does seem that there is a causative mechanism.
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.
Dr Jordan DeVylder, another of the study’s authors, said:
“This study shows that young adults who are prone towards anxiety report less social anxiety if they frequently consume fermented foods with probiotics.
These initial results highlight the possibility that social anxiety may be alleviated through low-risk nutritional interventions, although further research is needed to determine whether increasing probiotic consumption directly causes a reduction in social anxiety.”
The study is to be published in the journal Psychiatry Research (Hilimire et al., 2015).
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Anxious woman image from Shutterstock