Drive away sadness and counteract anxiety and stress… by eating, this is the dream of everybody. But is there a food capable of bringing these benefits? It certainly seems so and we are talking about fermented foods, as emerges from a very recent study that was presented a few days ago at the annual conference of the microbiology society. which was held at the Birmingham International Convention Centre, United Kingdom, between 17 and 20 April by an Irish team (Balasubramanian et al, Microbiology Society's Annual Conference, 17-20 April 2023 Birmingham International Convention Centre).
Fermented foods, not just a necessity
Every country has its own tradition of fermented foods. Every culture has a typical food produced following fermentation, just think of sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir or even simply yogurt. The fermentation process was born to better preserve foods and drinks and to have certain foods available all year round, even in winter or famine periods.
Therefore, fermentation was born as a necessity linked to survival. In reality, the fermentation process is much more and allows the drink or food to develop particular compounds that make it unique and which can bring important benefits to the health of body and mind. The research we're talking about today focused mainly on the effects of fermented foods on mental health.
Fermented foods, brain and mood, here is the study
The research is still at the beginning and a lot of work will have to be done to better investigate this very interesting topic, but in the meantime the results are really promising. Scientists have in fact analyzed the composition of more than 200 fermented foods that can commonly be found in supermarkets and specialized shops. The researchers expected to find only a few fermented foods with characteristics such as to perform a beneficial action on the brain and instead it emerged that all the fermented foods studied contain important substances for brain health. In particular, fermented foods affect the brain and mood in several ways. First they contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid used to produce serotonin, also called the good mood hormone as it works by improving mood and counteracting irritability, aggression and anxiety. Not only that, fermented foods improve the gut microbiota, favoring good bacteria at the expense of bad and pro-inflammatory ones. There is a link between the gut and the brain, called the gut-brain axis, whereby the health of one determines the health of the other. An intestine in which pro-inflammatory bacteria prevail also causes neuroinflammation and opens the door to sadness, anxieties and depressions as well as, over the years, also cognitive deterioration. Finally, all fermented foods have been shown to provide substances used by the body for the synthesis of neurotransmitters capable of counteracting even stress. As mentioned, all fermented foods have these characteristics but two categories are particularly effective in their action to protect the brain and mood. These foods are fermented vegetables and foods and beverages fermented from sugar. The presence of sugar in these cases should not give rise to fear of harmful effects as, during the fermentation process, the sugar is used to produce the beneficial substances just seen.
In the coming months, the Irish research team will study the effect of fermented foods using an artificial intestine and animals. In the meantime, while waiting for science to take its course, we can certainly include fermented foods in our diet, healthy, balanced and without excesses, to improve mood and counteract anxiety, stress and irritability. Examples of foods fermented from sugar are kombucha, a delicious, slightly fizzy drink, and kefir. While, among the fermented vegetables, we can include sauerkraut, olives, cucumbers, onions and the famous kimchi, a typical dish of Korean cuisine made with fermented vegetables, fish sauce and spices. Other fermented foods include yogurt, miso, tempeh, tamari, natto, and brewer's yeast.