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Fermented Foods & Social Anxiety

A batch of our homemade kombucha
--the 'fairy-mother' (a.k.a. Erin) produces this.

Newer research suggests that a diet rich in fermented foods and beverages may be associated with social anxiety in young adults, especially those who are highly neurotic (which adds weight to the gut-brain axis)

The study included 710 students enrolled in introductory college courses in psychology. The
participants completed questionnaires about fermented food consumption, neuroticism, and social anxiety.

The questionnaire asked about a variety of foods, including yogurt; kefir or food or beverages that contain yogurt; soy milk; miso soup; sauerkraut; dark chocolate; juices that contain microalgae; pickles; tempeh; and kimchi.

"Not all of these foods necessarily had active cultures, but they have the potential to contain probiotics and bioactive peptides," said the lead researcher.

In an interaction model that controlled for demographics, general consumption of healthful foods, and frequency of exercise frequency, the researchers found that exercise frequency, neuroticism, and fermented food consumption significantly and independently predicted social anxiety.

Fermented food consumption also interacted with neuroticism in predicting social anxiety. That is, in students with high degrees of neuroticism, a higher frequency of fermented food consumption correlated with fewer symptoms of social anxiety.

These observations are in line with previous preclinical and clinical trials suggesting that probiotics can have an anti-anxiety effect, the researchers say.

Although mechanisms of action were not investigated, previous research suggests there are a number of possibilities, such as:
  • probiotics reduce the permeability of the gut, so harmful substances don't leak out.
  • Probiotics also reduce inflammation of the gut. Because anxiety is often accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms, reducing gut inflammation helps alleviate those symptoms.
  • Probiotics have also been shown to modify the body's response to stress, and stress response is highly linked to mental health disorders, such as social anxiety. 
  • Consumption of fermented milk has been shown to reduce the brain's response to negative facial expressions. By reducing the brain's response to negative social stimuli, social anxiety symptoms might be reduced.
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Source: Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model

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