A new psychiatry research study out of the College of William & Mary and University of Maryland found a potential link between probiotic-containing fermented foods like pickles, kimchi, and kefir, and social anxiety. They discovered that young adults who eat more fermented foods experience fewer symptoms or social anxiety, with the effect proving strongest among those at genetic risk for social anxiety disorder.
“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,” explains William & Mary assistant professor of psychology Matthew Hilimire, adding, “I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”
So do we.
Check out this wild 2011 study: researchers in Ireland and Canada dropped lab mice into tall, narrow containers of water to see how long they would attempt to swim before they realized there was no escape and, instead, just relaxed and floated. Some mice were fed broth infused with a probiotic bacteria called Lactobacillus rhamnosus (also found in kefir). Scientists then watched and saw that the mice who had drank the broth tried to swim longer than the others. In other words, they refused to give up hope. ‘‘They behaved as if they were on Prozac,’’ lead neuroscientist John Cryan explained to the New York Times. ‘‘They were more chilled out and more relaxed.’’
A more recent psychiatry research study explored probiotic use among humans, but the researchers didn’t actually give people probiotics; rather, they asked 700 college undergraduates about their day-to-day eating habits and looked for associations from there. Students who ate more kefir and yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kombucha and fermented soy products fared better in terms of social anxiety, a condition affecting about 15 million American adults and can be limited to a single scenario (talking to people, eating or drinking with friends) or more widespread.
So, does this mean gorging on sauerkraut is the key to eradicating social anxiety? Not so fast. If you think you might suffer from social anxiety, reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional and share your concerns. There are behavioral and medical treatments that may help. But in light of all of the emerging research, it looks like you might be able to drink or eat your way to better mental health, too, starting very soon.