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Sauerkraut, which translates as ‘sour cabbage’, is the finely chopped cabbage that has been fermented or pickled in brine. A psychological research study focusing on the idea that a person’s emotions and diet can work together to combat neuroticism, has suggested that sauerkraut could prove useful in treating social anxiety. Neuroticism is a personality trait that is identified by worry, fear, anxiety and various other adverse emotions.
The most recent example of such cutting-edge research was conducted in Williamsburg, Virginia, at the university of William & Mary by a group of psychologists. They found a link between a diet rich in fermented foods and decrease in social anxiety. While this might sound odd, the idea of getting a prescription from a doctor for sauerkraut versus Zoloft has raised hopes of many people presently suffering from social anxiety disorders. Zoloft is a medicine that treats depression, anxiety, and other disorders.
As a specific form of anxiety, social anxiety is an emotion which is characterized by fear or discomfort that a person experiences when interacting socially within groups or with people overall. The individual also feels concerned about being evaluated or judged by others. Developed from a set of complex risk factors such as life events, genetics, personality and brain chemistry, anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adults who are 18-years-old and above in the U.S. With nearly 18 percent of the population, this makes it the most common mental illness in the U.S. today. As per a study commissioned by Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) named ‘The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders,’ around $42 billion out of the total mental health bill of the U.S. goes towards anxiety disorders. This is almost one-third of the country’s mental health bill of $148 billion.
Preliminary research, which was mainly conducted on mice, suggested that eating probiotics decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety. This lead researchers to study 700 undergraduates, who were assessed for social anxiety and five broad factors of personality traits which are, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness. The volunteers were also asked about their food consumption of sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, pickles, kombucha, kefir and fermented soy products. The study will be published in the August issue of Psychiatry Research.
Dr. Matthew Hilimire, one of the study’s authors and an assistant professor of psychology, stated that their findings showed that probiotics in fermented foods positively alter the interior parts of stomach. He said that it is fair to assess that these changes by micro-organisms in turn influence an individual’s mind and affect social anxiety. Probiotics are yeasts and ‘good’ live bacteria, which supports stomach and digestion health, along with neurological and immune function. Thus, the study suggests that fermented food including sauerkraut could prove useful in treating social anxiety.
One out of the several ways by which stomach bacteria can control mood and reduce anxiety is by increasing gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter that calms the fear response in brain. The other major aspect is that an increased amount of ‘good’ bacteria in stomach, generally means decreased inflammation, which may be theoretically related to a decline in depression, stress and anxiety.
For now, anxiety disorders are alleviated with different treatment options, and a wide range of people with the ailment can be helped with professional care. With more research, it may be possible that lifestyle changes such as exercise and a high probiotic diet could replace the standard approaches seen today like therapy and medication. More details are awaited relating to the study which suggests that fermented foods including sauerkraut could prove useful in treating social anxiety.
By Ankur Sinha
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Photo (1) Courtesy of Jules’ Flickr Page-Creative Commons License
Photo (2) Courtesy of Lili Valentine’s Flickr Page-Creative Commons License