Fermented foods have long been celebrated for their ability to improve gut health and digestion, but did you know that new evidence suggests that their healing properties go even further? In her new book, The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight & Extend Your Life, certified herbalist and board-certified doctor of natural medicine Michelle Schoffro Cook highlights not only the deeper benefits of eating fermented foods but the ease with which you can pickle and ferment at home in your own kitchen for very little money. In this excerpt from the book, learn how fermented foods can help alleviate anxiety, as well as ten other benefits that can make your body a happier place to live. Enjoy.
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If I told you that bacteria could alleviate your anxiety, you’d probably think I was joking or uninformed. But if you suffer from anxiety, particularly social anxiety, you’ll be happy to learn about the exciting study conducted by researchers at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The study, published in Psychiatry Research, found that regularly consuming fermented foods replete with plentiful amounts of beneficial bacteria may indeed help reduce social anxiety.
In the College of William and Mary study 710 students completed food diaries about their intake of fermented foods over the previous thirty days. They were also asked about exercise frequency and their consumption of fruits and vegetables so the researchers could control for healthy habits beyond fermented food intake. Researchers found that those who ate higher amounts of fermented foods had lower levels of social anxiety. The link was particularly noticeable among those who demonstrated signs of neuroticism.
Matthew Hilimire, a professor of psychology at the College of William and Mary and one of the researchers who conducted the study, said in an interview with PsychCentral, “It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety.”13 The study found that people prone to anxiety experience less social anxiety when they frequently consume fermented foods replete with probiotics.
It may be hard to comprehend how bacteria can affect your mind, but an increasing body of research is proving that they do. A study conducted by researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, published in the medical journal Gastroenterology, showed that the specific probiotic known as Bifidobacterium longum eliminated anxiety and normalized behavior. The researchers found that chronic gastrointestinal inflammation induces anxiety-like behavior and alters the biochemistry of the central nervous system.
Further, a French study published in the British Journal of Nutrition confirms both the American and Canadian studies. They found that the same probiotic strain studied by the McMaster researchers, B. longum, along with another probiotic strain known as Lactobacillus helveticus, reduced anxiety. Additionally, the French study found that these two probiotics reduced psychological stress, depression, and feelings of anger and hostility.
Although the exact mechanism or mechanisms at work are not yet clear, researchers believe that the probiotics reduce gastrointestinal inflammation and boost serotonin levels. Serotonin, a feel-good brain hormone sometimes called the happiness hormone, was once believed to be exclusively found in the brain but is actually produced by the gut; in fact, scientists estimate that about 90 percent of the body’s serotonin can actually be found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. That’s right: your intestines do some of the same work as your brain. And this is why many scientists now refer to the gut as the body’s “second brain”: the gut-brain health link has been the focus of a growing body of research proving the connection.
Ten Ways Specific Fermented Foods Can Improve Your Life
- Eating sauerkraut helps protect you from breast cancer. When cabbage is fermented as it is in making sauerkraut, its nutrients, known as glucosinolates, transform into the powerhouse anticancer nutrients isothiocyanates. Researchers have found that isothiocyanates balance excessive hormone production linked to breast cancer and even suppress tumor growth.
- Kimchi is the medicine of the future. Scientists have identified a whopping 970 different probiotic species in kimchi, many of which offer powerful immune-boosting effects. Some of these unique probiotics are proven to kill superbugs even when our most potent medicines fail! The Journal of Medicinal Food found that kimchi’s additional health properties include anticancer properties, anti-obesity benefits, anticonstipation, colorectal health promotion, cholesterol reduction, fibrolytic effect (a process that prevents blood clots from growing), antioxidative and anti-aging properties, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health promotion.
- Regular consumption of miso fights at least five different types of cancer. Research published in multiple medical journals, including the International Journal of Oncology, found that miso consumption prevents and even effectively treats lung, liver, breast, colon, and liver cancers.
- Eating yogurt can reduce four markers essential for preventing diabetes and heart disease. Research published in the journal Nutrition demonstrated that yogurt cultured with the probiotic L. plantarum improved cholesterol levels, blood sugar balance, and homocysteine levels in women with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of four symptoms, and when they occur together, they increase a person’s risk of diabetes as well as heart disease and stroke. So reducing these markers bodes well for long-term health.
- Eating certain fermented foods can alleviate seasonal allergies. Fermented plums contain beneficial yeasts known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae that have been linked to reducing allergies, congestion, and sinusitis. But why pop expensive supplements when you can reap these benefits and enjoy my Cultured Plum Chutney?
- Eating fermented foods can give your brain a boost. Exciting new research published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that intentionally boosting beneficial microbes by adding fermented foods to the diet could directly activate neural pathways between the gut and the brain and may boost brain health and prevent depression.
- Eating nondairy yogurt can improve bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Research published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition and multiple other journals found a direct link between dairy-free yogurt consumption and bone health.
- Drinking probiotic-rich kefir helps protect against cancer and even effectively treats the disease. Kefir contains a probiotic called Lactobacillus kefiri P-IF, which is effective against leukemia even when multiple cancer drugs fail.
- Eating fermented soy, known as miso, can prevent radiation injury. It’s not just an urban myth: medical research conducted in Hiroshima found that eating fermented soy protects against the damaging effects of radiation — a growing concern in our modern society.
- Fermented foods are the missing link when it comes to effortless and permanent weight loss. In many studies the intestines of overweight and obese people were found to differ from those of lean people. Research published in the medical journal Beneficial Microbes found that obese and overweight people tend to have a higher ratio of harmful microbes to beneficial ones. The best way to boost beneficial microbes to benefit from their slimming properties is to enjoy fermented foods that contain live cultures on a regular basis.
These health benefits are just the tip of the iceberg. New studies are being released on an almost daily basis, demonstrating the health benefits of incorporating more probiotics and probiotic-rich foods into the diet.
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Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM, is an internationally bestselling author whose works include The Cultured Cook and Be Your Own Herbalist. She is a certified herbalist, a board-certified doctor of natural medicine, and one of the world’s most popular natural health bloggers. She holds advanced degrees in health, nutrition, orthomolecular nutrition, and acupuncture. She lives near Vancouver, BC, Canada. Visit her online at www.drmichellecook.com.
Excerpted from the book The Cultured Cook. Copyright © 2017 by Michelle Schoffro Cook.