Researchers have made a breakthrough discovery in stress management: fermented food can change one’s mood.
Scientists from the University College Cork (UCC) APC Microbiome research center found consuming 2-3 servings of fermented foods a day – like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, etc. – improves mental health. Stress and depressive symptoms are reduced when regularly consuming fermented foods.
Their month-long study analyzed the effects of a psychobiotic diet on adults, while the control group was given general nutrition advice in line with the food pyramid. The psychobiotic diet is designed to target the gut microbiome. It includes fermented foods, fruit and vegetables high in prebiotic fibers, grains and legumes.
“Although the microbiome has been linked to stress and behavior previously, it was unclear if by feeding these microbes demonstrable effects could be seen,” said Professor John Cryan, one of the study’s lead authors, vice president for research and innovation at UCC, and a principal investigator at APC Microbiome. “Our study provides one of the first data in the interaction between diet, microbiota and feelings of stress and mood. Using microbiota targeted diets to positively modulate gut-brain communication holds possibilities for the reduction of stress and stress-associated disorders, but additional research is warranted to investigate underlying mechanisms.”
Researchers studied participants with relatively low fiber diets, measuring their perceived levels of stress before and after beginning the psychobiotic diet. Four weeks in, participants reported a strong decrease in perceived stress. Their sleep improved, too. Forty chemicals were affected by the change,
“These results highlight that dietary approaches can be used to reduce perceived stress in a human cohort. Using microbiota-targeted diets to positively modulate gut-brain communication holds possibilities for the reduction of stress and stress-associated disorders,” the study reads.
Cryan, in an article for The Telegraph, said: “The mechanisms underpinning the effect of diet on mental health are still not fully understood. But one explanation for this link could be via the relationship between our brain and our microbiome (the trillions of bacteria that live in our gut). Known as the gut-brain axis, this allows the brain and gut to be in constant communication with each other, allowing essential body functions such as digestion and appetite to happen.
“It also means that the emotional and cognitive centres in our brain are closely connected to our gut.”
He added: “The next time you’re feeling particularly stressed, perhaps you’ll want to think more carefully about what you plan on eating for lunch or dinner. Including more fibre and fermented foods for a few weeks may just help you feel a little less stressed out.”
The study was published in Molecular Psychiatrry.