Saturday, June 22

William & Mary Study Connects Mental Health to Diet

Diet and exercise work together to keep us healthy, and without one, the other may as well be pointless. A recent study conducted jointly by professors at William and Mary and the University of Maryland highlighted yet another key benefit of this balance. The study looked into the possible connection between social anxiety and fermented foods.

We’ve heard the cliche “you are what you eat” enough times to have it ingrained in our brains forever. But the results of this study prove that eating healthier can affect both your body and your mind in a positive way. We’ve seen the connection between mental health issues and exercise already. Other studies have proven exercise to be an effective antidepressant for mild depression due to the dopamine production that occurs. The William and Mary study adds another piece to that puzzle.

Because fermented foods contain probiotics, they may be responsible for actually changing our gut’s environment, which in turn helps balance the chemicals that cause social anxiety. The probiotics increase your body’s production of neurotransmitters, therefore allowing your body to fight anxiety on its own, without the help of medication.

In the study, results of which will be published in August in the journal Psychiatry Research, researchers asked respondents to tell them how many fermented foods they ate in their normal lives. They sampled students enrolled in an Intro to Psych course, which they felt gave them a good cross-section of students.

“I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind,” said Matthew Hilimire, professor of psychology and one of the researchers involved in the study.

This connection is a relatively new one, so it will take an experimental follow-up study to confirm their findings.

Of course this finding is also dependent on exercise, which in our current society may be hard to get on board. As it stands, less than 5% of adults are getting the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Once that issue is remedied, however, the balance between diet and exercise has the potential to drastically reduce mental health issues.

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