I am always searching for new ideas to calm anxiety and stress in the most conservative way. What is better than modifying nutrition in order to achieve this goal? During my reading, I found an interesting association between eating fermented foods and the management of anxiety, stress and even depression.
Traditional diets including Mediterranean and Japanese diets are high in fruits, vegetables, fiber and fish. Studies that examined these diets have reported a lower risk of anxiety and depression in individuals adhering to a traditional diet compared to those following a western diet.
I recommend that you read my previous article about anxiety and its management.
What is fermentation?
Before we go any further, let me explain what fermentation is all about. Fermentation is a process when a bacteria called lactobacilli (fermentation bacteria) converts carbohydrates (starches and sugar) into lactic acid.
Our ancestors unknowingly recognized the palatability, preservative, sedating and stimulating properties of fermented foods and inadvertently with the help of microbes, humans have produced many great nutritional products that we enjoy every day.
Several fermented foods are my favorites including sauerkraut, pickles and kefir. How about you?
List of fermented foods
- Cultured cheeses
- Sourdough bread
- Calming anxiety and stress with fermented foods
Now, let’s talk about the association of eating fermented foods and managing anxiety, stress and perhaps depression.
How can eating fermented foods improve your mood and reduce stress? To understand this relationship, we need to appreciate the so-called brain and gut axis.
Research is increasingly suggesting that the bacterial composition of the gut (microbes) affects our state of mind, by influencing the immune system, nerve signals and the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Serotonin is found mainly in the gut and nervous system. Its role in the etiology of anxiety and depression is well-established.
The data confirming the relationship between gut microbes, brain development and emotional behavior is strongest in animals. However, there is an increasing amount of data supporting the notion that gut microbes could affect human behavior and mood.
It has been suggested that the mechanisms by which gut microbes influence mood or fatigue include: reducing systemic inflammation, the activation of the neural pathway between the gut and brain and altering the tissue level of mood-regulating minerals such as zinc and magnesium.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria that exist in variations. However, the main probiotics belong to the group of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium that are found in fermented foods.
If we understand that our gut benefits from a good bacterial composition and improving this balance is important, then we know maintaining well-rounded nutrition that helps our gut health is essential.
Additional benefits of fermented foods and probiotics
Research has shown that fermented foods could increase the availability of magnesium, zinc and B-vitamins.
There are also some data about the the benefit of probiotics in preventing diarrhea in patients with intestinal infections.
There are not too many other proven benefits of probiotics for our health.
Should you take over the counter probiotics?
It’s difficult to avoid marketing pitches and advertisements. Taking probiotic supplements is fashionable and millions of people are taking or at least thinking about taking a probiotic supplement.
Considering that there isn’t enough safety information available about the long-term consumption of probiotics, I don’t recommend taking over the counter probiotics on a regular basis. My opinion is that the emphasis should be on nutrition and the consumption of a variety of foods.
A word of caution
I sincerely belief that every step that we take to improve our health should be evaluated very carefully by listing and examining the pros and cons of every specific action. For instance, you should be cautious about increasing dairy product consumption with the goal of increasing your fermented food intake. Increased consumption of dairy products could increase the body’s blood cholesterol levels, so it would be a good idea to consume the low fat varieties of these products.
In addition, products such as sauerkraut contain preservatives called sulfites that could cause the worsening of asthma in patients who are sensitive to this chemical.
Individuals adhering to traditional diets have been shown to be healthier and have a lower risk of anxiety, depression and stress compared to people on modern or western diets. Fermented foods are a major part of traditional diets. Available animal studies are suggesting a strong link between gut health and mood. Human studies are also increasingly confirming this association.
In my opinion, we should modify our nutrition and consume more natural fermented products. I don’t see enough convincing data to suggest a probiotic supplementation, especially due to the lack of long-term safety studies.
I don’t see any justification replacing tasteful and natural foods with tablets and powders at this time.