If you're feeling a bit nervous about going out socializing pickles and other fermented foods may help calm your nerves, according to new research.
A study in Psychiatry Research’s August issue claims that fermented foods like anything pickled, yogurt, and kefir can ease a person’s social anxiety, and even their neuroticism. Probiotics, bacteria that ferment the food. Psychologist Matthew Hillimire, co-author for the study, 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.”
The authors gathered 710 students at William & Mary and recorded the amount of fermented food they ate, along with symptoms of neuroticism and social issues they experienced during the study. They found a correlation between the fermented food consumed and the levels of anxiety. Particularly neurotic subjects saw a decrease in their symptoms of shyness and fear of social situations when they ate more fermented food.
Despite uncovering a link, the study does not explain how it works, precisely. Previous studies on animals have indicated that the microbiome and probiotics help the human stomach, and possibly the mind. Clinical trials have also indicated possible healthy benefits, but no results are finite.
The good bacteria may influence GABA levels--a brain chemical that controls anxiety. GABA is connected to neural pathways the same way anti-anxiety medications are. “In other words,” Rupp says, “if you’ve got a case of social jimjams, eating a bowl of sauerkraut may be the equivalent of popping a Valium. Or maybe even better.”
Of course, all these details differ from person to person, and so discovering precise causes for links between fermented food and anxiety will take time and research. However, if you’re feeling particularly anxious, you might want to consider grabbing a pickle.