Fermented Foods and Fiber May Lower Stress Levels

Summary: Adding more fermented foods and fiber to your daily diet for four weeks has a significant effect on reducing stress.

Source: The conversation

When dealing with stress, we’re often told that the best things we can do are exercise, make time for our favorite activities, or try meditation or mindfulness.

But according to research published by myself and other members of APC Microbiome Ireland, the foods we eat can be an effective way of dealing with stress. Our latest study showed that eating more fermented foods and fiber every day for four weeks had a significant effect on reducing perceived stress levels.

Over the past decade, a growing body of research has shown that diet can have a profound effect on our mental health. In fact, a healthy diet can even reduce the risk of many common mental illnesses.

The mechanisms underlying the effects of diet on mental health are not yet fully understood. But one explanation for this link could be the connection between our brain and our microbiome (the trillions of bacteria that live in our gut).

Called the gut-brain axis, this allows the brain and gut to communicate with each other constantly, allowing essential bodily functions such as digestion and appetite to occur. It also means that the emotional and cognitive centers in our brains are intimately connected to our guts.

While previous research has shown that stress and behavior are also linked to our microbiome, it was unclear until now whether changing diet (and therefore our microbiome) could have a different effect on stress levels.

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This is what our study was designed to do. To test this, we recruited 45 healthy individuals aged 18–59 years on a relatively low-fiber diet. More than half were women. Participants were divided into two groups and randomly assigned a diet for the four-week study.

About half were assigned a diet designed by nutritionist Dr. Kirsten Berding that increased the amount of prebiotics and fermented foods they ate. This was called a “psychobiological” diet because it included foods linked to better mental health.

This group was given a one-on-one education session with a dietitian at the beginning and halfway through the study. They were told they should aim to include 6-8 servings a day of fruit and vegetables rich in prebiotic fiber (such as onions, leeks, cabbage, apples, bananas and oats), 5-8 whole grains a day and 3-4 legumes a week. belonging food.

They were told to include 2-3 servings of fermented foods per day (eg, sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha). Participants in the control diet received only general dietary advice based on the healthy food pyramid.

Less stress

Interestingly, those who followed the psychoactive diet reported feeling less stressed compared to those who followed the control diet.

There was also a direct correlation between how strictly participants followed the diet and their perceived stress levels, with those who ate more psychoactive foods over the four-week period reporting the greatest reductions in perceived stress levels.

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Interestingly, sleep quality improved in both groups – although those on the psychobiotic diet reported greater sleep improvement. Other studies have shown that gut microbes are involved in sleep processes, which may explain this link.

The psychological diet induced subtle changes in the composition and function of the gut microbiome. However, we observed significant differences in the levels of certain key chemicals produced by these gut microbes. Some of these chemicals have been linked to mental health, which may explain why diet participants feel less stressed.

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Our results suggest that a specific diet can be used to reduce perceived stress levels. Such a diet also helps protect mental health in the long term as it targets the microbes in the gut.

Although these results are encouraging, our study is not without limitations. First, the sample size is small due to epidemiology, which limits recruitment. Second, the short duration of the study may have limited the changes we observed—it is unclear how long they would last. Therefore, long-term studies will be needed.

This shows fermented vegetables
About half were assigned a diet designed by nutritionist Dr. Kirsten Berding that increased the amount of prebiotics and fermented foods they ate. The image is in the public domain

Third, participants report their daily food intake, and this method of measurement is susceptible to error and bias, particularly when assessing food intake. We also did our best to ensure that participants did not know which group they had been assigned to, and might have been able to guess based on the nutritional advice they were given. This may have influenced their responses at the end of the study.

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Finally, our study only looked at people who were already healthy. This means that we do not understand what effect this diet has on an unhealthy person.

However, our study offers exciting evidence that diet can be an effective way to reduce stress. It will be interesting to know whether these results can be replicated in people suffering from stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression. It adds more evidence to this area of ​​research, showing a link between food, our microbiome and our mental health.

So the next time you’re feeling particularly stressed, you might want to think more carefully about what you’re planning for lunch or dinner. Incorporating more fiber and fermented foods for a few weeks can help you feel a little less stressed.

funds: John Cryan receives funding from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), Research Council Ireland and the Health Research Council. He also receives funding from the Saks-Kavanaugh Foundation. The author receives research funding, has been a consultant and has been on the speaker’s bureau of food and pharmaceutical companies in the field of microbiology, food and neuroscience.

About this stress and food research news

Author: John Cryan
Source: The conversation
Contact: John Cryan – Conversation
image: The image is in the public domain

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