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Fermented foods may decrease social anxiety

15 June 2015 | News | By Bureau Report

A study published in Psychiatry Research shows that young adults who eat more fermented foods have fewer social anxiety symptoms, with the effect being greatest among those at genetic risk for social anxiety disorder.

The researchers designed a questionnaire that was included in a mass testing tool administered in the university’s Introduction to Psychology courses during the fall 2014 semester; about 700 students participated. The questionnaire asked students about the fermented foods they consumed over the previous 30 days; it also asked about exercise frequency and the average consumption of fruits and vegetables so that the researchers could control for healthy habits outside of fermented food intake.

Animal models and clinical trials in humans suggest that probiotics can have an anxiolytic effect. However, no studies have examined the relationship between probiotics and social anxiety. In this study the researchers employed a cross-sectional approach to determine whether consumption of fermented foods likely to contain probiotics interacts with neuroticism to predict social anxiety symptoms.

Taken together with previous studies, the results suggest that fermented foods that contain probiotics may have a protective effect against social anxiety symptoms for those at higher genetic risk, as indexed by trait neuroticism. While additional research is necessary to determine the direction of causality, these results suggest that consumption of fermented foods that contain probiotics may serve as a low-risk intervention for reducing social anxiety.

“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,” said Matthew Hilimire, co-author and psychology professor at the College of William and Mary.

“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,” said Hilimire.

The study is just the first in a series they have planned to continue exploring the mind-gut connection, including another examination of the data to see whether a correlation exists between fermented food intake and autism symptoms.

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