Fermented foods seem to have taken the health-world by storm in recent years. Kombucha is no longer an obscure concept, but a health fixture in many households. While many prefer the bottled and purchased variety, others are dedicated in the home-fermentation process and laud the gut-healing effects that the fermented drink yields. But Kombucha is not the only fermented food, and gut health is no longer the only benefit.
In truth, fermented foods have been around for centuries. Some of the earliest records show Chinese workers eating acid-fermented vegetables while building the Great Wall of China. Ancient Greek writings include the benefits of fermented cabbage, and Captain Cook allegedly used sauerkraut and lime juice to prevent scurvy .
In fact, fermented foods have been used across many centuries, continents, and cultures due to their medicinal and health benefits. To a large degree, modern society has moved away from this method of preserving food, as freezing and canning foods take precedence more often . Sadly, this also means we often lose out on the probiotic and gut health benefits they can yield.
Common forms of fermented food include :
- Lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink)
- Fermented vegetables
Gut health and probiotic benefits of fermented foods have been well established in research and health practice. But a recent piece of research has thrown an interesting light on the mind-gut connection and the impact of fermented foods.
Healthier Gut, Happier Brain
The Journal of Psychiatry Research recently accepted a study that shows the connection between social anxiety, neuroticism and fermented foods. Specifically, the study found that individuals who had consumed more fermented foods had reduced social anxiety. The relationship was strongest when there was high neuroticism.
As to the cause of this outcome, Matthew Hilimire is quoted as saying “It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favourably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety. I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind .”
Secondary findings included a positive relationship between exercise and improved social anxiety.
The researchers plan on continuing their investigation into the mind-gut connection. They are not the first to study it either, with many experts including Dr. David Perlmutter (author of the bestseller Grain Brain) citing a connection between gut bacteria and mood. How can this be?
“The gut is home to your enteric nervous system, sometimes referred to as the ‘second brain’, says Professor Spector. Neurotransmitters essential to brain health are produced in the gut and scientists now believe some 95 per cent of our serotonin – a neurotransmitter essential to mood stability that antidepressant medication helps regulate – is made in our guts .”
Looking after the gut-brain axis
The gut-brain axis is no secret among those who work in health-related fields, nor is the gut microbiome and its impacts on health outcomes.
Research like this reinforces the concept that health is holistic, and that mental health can be impacted by nurturing all of our body, including our gut health. Once again, we see that we can heal from the inside out.
 Williams, D, (2015), “Gut Health and the Benefits of Traditional Fermented Foods,” Dr. David Williams (Online), retrieved 20 January 2016
 Mercola (2015), “Fermented Foods: How to Culture Your Way to Optimal Health,” Dr. Mercola Artciles, Retrieved 20 January 16
 Matthew R. Hilimire, Jordan E. DeVylder, Catherine A. Forestell, (2015) ‘Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model’ Journal of psychiatry research, 2015; 228 (2): 203 DOI:10.1016/j.psychres.2015.04.023
 Magee, A (2015) ‘How to keep your gut happy,’ The Telegraph UK, retrieved 20 January 2016