According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 40 million Americans suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder. And worldwide, anxiety afflicts 1 in 13 people, according to the Global Burden of Disease study.

The numbers only seem to be growing. Moreover, people want to find alternative remedies rather than relying on pharmaceutical drugs that only mask the problem.

Many turn to exercise, breathing techniques, aromatherapy, herbs, or other types of holistic medicines to cure their stress and anxiety. But did you know that you can actually help conquer anxiety by simply eating fermented foods such as pickles?

Time and again, research proves that the probiotics in fermented foods such as pickles proved to help alleviate social anxiety.

Science Daily reported the same outcome in a study of 700 students who completed a questionnaire that asked them about their consumption of fermented foods, how many fruits and vegetables they ate, and also how often they exercised.

They found that the students who ate more fermented foods had less social anxiety. But, how do the two connect?

The Second Brain

So here is the deal. Doctors often call the gut the “second brain.” That’s because so much of the aforementioned research directly links the foods you eat and how you feel. Probiotics in fermented foods have the power to restore healthy gut bacteria. Therefore, they influence how your brain responds to those bacteria. There are over 100 million neurons in the gut, and over 100 trillion microorganisms living in the intestines. So it’s no wonder that the food we ingest so heavily impacts how we feel.

“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,” said Professor Matthew Hilimire, a leader in the study.

“I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”

Related article: The surprising link between gut health and mental health

Your gut and brain are connected by a direct neuronal connection called the vagus nerve. That nerve sends and receives messages to control the digestive system, heart, and lungs. There are ongoing studies regarding the vagus nerve. But the direct connection it makes between the heart and brain is quite clear.

To provide more evidence to this claim, scientists transplanted the fecal microbiota from an anxious strain of mice to a calm mouse to see what would happen. Not surprisingly, the calm mouse became anxious, and the bacteria from the calm strain of mice helped relax those with anxiety. This study shows that neither genetics nor brain chemistry affected their behavior, but simply the bacterial makeup of their gut!

If you don’t particularly care for pickles, you can also eat other fermented foods. Some include yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, tempeh, tofu, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled garlic, beets, radish or cucumbers. Or, simply take a probiotic supplement with your meals.

Since humans are composed of approximately 90% bacteria, it’s essential that we provide our bodies with enough good bacteria for them to perform their jobs properly. It seems that most anxiety treatments center around pills and therapies for the brain. But with these groundbreaking studies coming out about how gut bacteria can ease or even cure anxiety, we may start seeing a drastic change in how anxiety disorders are treated.