You know that coffee perks you up. And when you’re sad, mac and cheese can make you feel better. But could miso soup or sauerkraut help you feel less tense at parties?
Yes, according to a new study, published online in the journal Psychiatry Research. Psychologists from the College of William & Mary and the University of Maryland have found a connection between social anxiety and consumption of fermented foods that contain probiotics.
The researchers designed a questionnaire for W&M students who were also tested for the so-called Big Five personality traits — openness, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism — and for social anxiety. The questionnaire asked about the students’ diet in the preceding 30 days, including their consumption of fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, fermented soy milk, miso soup, sauerkraut, some dark chocolates, microalgae juices, pickles, tempeh and kimchi.
Analyzing results from more than 700 students, the researchers found that young adults who ate more of these probiotic-laden foods reported fewer anxiety symptoms such as sweaty palms and racing heart in social situations. The effect was greater among students whose Big Five scores indicated neuroticism: In other words, they seemed to have a protective effect against social anxiety symptoms among kids who were inherently the most anxious.
While the study says further research is necessary to fully establish cause and effect, “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 W&M professor Matthew Hilimire. “I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”
A secondary finding: More exercise also reduced social anxiety.