WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (CBSDC) — A new study finds that people who eat more fermented foods have fewer social anxiety symptoms.

Researchers from William & Mary and the University of Maryland studied a potential connection between fermented foods and social anxiety.

William & Mary psychology professor Matthew Hilimire believes it might be the probiotics in fermented food that is playing a role.

“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,” Hilimire told Science Daily. “I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”

Nearly 700 students participated in the study where they were asked about fermented foods they ate over 30 days, their exercise frequency and also the average consumption of fruits and vegetables.

“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,” Hilimire told Science Daily. “What that means is that that relationship was strongest amongst people that were high in neuroticism.”

Researchers also found that exercise was related to reduced social anxiety.

Hilimire added that they will create an experimental version of the study.

“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,” he told Science Daily. “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.”

Jordan DeVylder, assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, said the study helps support the correlation between mental health and eating well.

“This study shows that young adults who are prone towards anxiety report less social anxiety if they frequently consumer fermented foods with probiotics,” he told Science Daily. “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 will be published in Psychiatry Research.


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