Can food affect mood? In a recent study, published in Psychiatry Research, a group of psychologists asked 710 college students about what they normally ate, their personalities, their exercise habits, and any social anxiety symptoms they experienced. The results showed that people who ate more fermented foods (yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir) were less likely to experience social anxiety.
This was an observational study, which means that it is unknown if it was the probiotics in the fermented foods that caused the reduction in anxiety symptoms – however, animal studies suggest that probiotics can help stimulate the release of important mood-related neurotransmitters. Probiotic supplements have also been shown to change how we respond to stress and sadness.
This may be more proof that there is a gut-mind connection, that the health of your gut may be linked to your mental health. In 2011, a study out of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario also found that the balance of bacteria in your gut may have more to do with your mood than any other contributing factors.
Here are some common factors affecting the bacteria balance in our gut:
1. Overuse of antibiotics: Antibiotics work by killing not just the harmful bacterias causing infections, but all bacteria – good and bad. This poses a problem for us because our digestive systems are home to more than 1,000 trillion bacteria, and we need them to be in good balance in order to be healthy.
2. Birth control pills: Almost two-thirds of all women in the U.S. have taken birth control pills on a regular basis. Like antibiotics, oral contraceptives can alter the balance of bacteria in the gut.
3. Processed foods: Processed junk foods, particularly those high in refined flours and sugars, feed (almost exclusively) the harmful, abnormal bacteria and microbes in our gut. A diet rich in these staples of industrial food will allow these abnormal microbes to thrive, weakening the population of healthy, beneficial bacteria, and leading to an imbalance of gut flora.
So what can you do to restore the balance?
First, you can start by incorporating more cultured, fermented foods into your diet. Avoid sugar! Bad bacteria thrive on sugar – it is their food of choice. You shouldn’t eat any refined sugars like table sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
Photo from here, with thanks.