Science: Fermented Foods Found To Reduce Social Anxiety

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Science - Fermented Foods Found To Reduce Social Anxiety
Science – Fermented Foods Found To Reduce Social Anxiety. Graphic © Photo © Shutterstock 721643812 (under license)

What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder is a type of mental health issue characterized by a phobia or aversion to social situations. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health it can be described as an intense fear of being observed and/or judged by others. Typically, the symptoms need to have been occurring for at least six months to make a formal diagnosis. The common misbelief is that social anxiety is simply a fear of people or excessive shyness but that isn’t case. Social anxiety can cause difficulty for the sufferers in scenarios that involve other people, like meeting someone new, answering questions in class, and even normal everyday actions like answering the phone or eating in front of others. Even going to a public bathroom can be a source of anxiety for people suffering from this problem. [1]

Because of the stigma surrounding mental health and illness, many people (especially those who have social anxiety) find it hard to seek help for whatever mental condition ails them, and this in turn has ramifications on the treatment and management of mental health of the general public. While a lot of research has been done on how various mental conditions are managed, problems with follow-up and underreporting, especially for anxiety disorders, limit the options for proper management.

Anxiety Statistics

Anxiety affects 40 million adults aged 18 and older in the United States, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. That’s 18 percent of the American population. These numbers make anxiety the most common mental illness in the United States, above more commonly known conditions such as depression. Despite the millions of people affected by anxiety, only 36 percent receive treatment. Out of the 40 million adults, 15 million are affected by social anxiety, with the condition actually beginning quite young, as early as 13 years old. While conventional treatment involves the use of anxiolytic medications like Zoloft and Prozac and therapy, a new study has shed light on how your diet can also help manage the symptoms of anxiety. [2]

Natural Methods For Anxiety Reduction

Like every other drug that is mass produced and marketed towards the public, there are potential side effects to taking anxiolytic medications. While these may help users to manage the symptoms of anxiety, people often report side effects like confusion, and drowsiness. Others even suffer from fatigue, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal problems. The most typical complaint is sedation, or a feeling of numbness, which is why some find it challenging to stick to their prescribed medications. [3] Other anxiolytics are unsuitable for long term use and can have serious addiction or withdrawal challenges.

One option that was discovered in a 2015 study focused on social anxiety disorder among young adults. The study was first published in the journal of Psychiatry Research and was based on previous studies that showed a promising link between the consumption of fermented food and gut health, which in turn could potentially reduce the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. The researchers, Hilimire, DeVylder, and Forestell found that the probiotics in fermented food was able to alter the gut microbiota of genetically predispositioned adults and reduce social anxiety. [4]

What does genetically predispositioned mean? According to research, some people are more likely to experience neuroticism that others because of their genes. Neuroticism is a personality trait characterized by self-doubt, depression, and anxiety. The results of Hilimire, DeVylder, and Forestell’s study involved 700 students at the University of Maryland and their lifestyle habits, such as diet and exercise, as well as things that gave them social anxiety and phobia. After compiling their data, the researchers noted that students who had more fermented foods in their diet had significantly reduced social anxiety compared to students who had less. Of course, these data were purely based on a survey, and not experimental treatment. [4]

Hilmire cited parallels between the results of their study on humans and previously reported results done on animals. She said that studies that involved giving animals probiotics like lactobacilli had a tendency to be less depressed and anxious. This was due to an alteration in gut health, wherein the probiotics caused decreased gut permeability and inflammation, which in turn stimulated the body to produce GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that helps reduce anxiety. The same thing that doctors expect tablets and pills to do could also be achieved by the introduction of certain food in the diet. [5]

What their study means for mental health is an alternative, if not conjunctive, method to manage stress and anxiety, and maybe even depression. Diet adjustments like the inclusion of fermented food and probiotics may indeed have merit in the management of social anxiety; that means a lot for the millions of people who suffer from the disorder and find that the more conventional methods of drugs and therapy don’t exactly work for than 100 percent of the time.


[1] National Institute of Mental Health. Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness.

[2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Facts & Statistics.

[3] Citizens Commission on Human Rights. Antianxiety Drugs: The facts about the effects.

[4] Hilimire, M., DeVylder, J., & Forestell, C. (2015). Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model.

[5] Zagursky, E. (2015). Study finds decreased social anxiety among young adults who eat fermented foods.

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