“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,” Hilimire said. “The people that benefitted the most from fermented foods were high in neuroticism. And the secondary finding was that more exercise was related to reduced social anxiety, as well.”
Although the researchers were pleased – and a little surprised – to see the findings so clearly support their hypothesis, 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, said Hilimire.
The researchers will also soon create an experimental version of the study, looking specifically at social anxiety and using fermented foods as opposed to probiotic supplements, which lack the bioactive proteins that can also affect the brain.
“If we use a naturally fermented food – we give people yogurt instead of isolated probiotics – it will be among the first experimental studies that use these fermented foods, so they’ll get the benefits of the probiotics but also the peptides, as well,” said Hilimire.
Without that experimental phase, the researches can’t make a causative connection between eating fermented foods and reduced social anxiety.
“However, if we rely on the animal models that have come before us and the human experimental work that has come before us in other anxiety and depression studies, it does seem that there is a causative mechanism,” said Hilimire.
“Assuming similar findings in the experimental follow-up, what it would suggest is that you could augment more traditional therapies (like medications, psychotherapy or a combination of the two) with fermented foods – dietary changes – and exercise, as well.”
As long as a person is healthy enough to exercise, there shouldn’t be any negative consequences of those supplements, Hilimire added.