Fermentation and Happiness
The Happiness Factor
Fermenting foods and eating fermented foods makes me feel happy. Just to be clear, I am not talking about wine and beer. Alcohol can cause a whole different, temporary happiness that can lead to unhappiness. No, I'm talking about mainly fermented vegetables and some benign drinks. I honestly believe that since putting a variety of fermented foods into my diet that I am happier. Yogurt has always been a staple in my fridge. But in the past few years I have also eaten various sauerkrauts and other fermented vegetables plus water kefir and milk kefir, beet kvass and pineapple tepache virtually daily. These foods contribute to a broad spectrum of microbes in my gut. And I feel happy.
There are multiple factors to consider in evaluating happiness. I don’t know if it’s the food itself or the fact that I’m enjoying experimenting with food and sharing with others (I’ve always loved to cook!). But since I started eating a variety of fermented foods, I truly believe I am happier. Of course, science is not about feelings. However, there is actual science to back up the claim that fermented foods contribute to a positive mental state.
Researchers observed the reactions of mice in a control group vs. mice who were given lactobacillus – one of the mighty microbes that is found in yogurt and other fermented foods. In the experiment, mice were put into a stressful situation that created anxiety and depression. One reaction was for some mice to simply give up. So, yeah. They created depressed mice. Mice without hope! However, mice on probiotics seemed to exhibit hope and were less anxious about the situation presented. These scientists theorize that the probiotics actually helped the mice become less depressed. If you’re skeptical (as I was) that mouse experiments can be translated into human results, or that mice exhibit depression or hope, read on.
In an article in Neuroscience News (Taking Probiotics May Reduce Postnatal Depression, October 18, 2017) an experiment is described in which women who were given a probiotic during pregnancy and afterwards had less depression and anxiety after giving birth. This is significant as many women would prefer not to take medications during pregnancy. But food is medicine. And fermented food can be powerful medicine.
Research is continuing regarding the interaction of diet and mental health, specifically that the human microbiota plays a significant role in mental health and mood regulation. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter linked to multiple bodily functions including mental health and depression. 90% of your serotonin is created in your gut. Some scientists hypothesize that as they learn more, treating depression by altering the microbiota will be a viable plan in the future of mental health. (The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression. Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience. 2015 DEC; 13(3): 239-244.)
It has been said that the gut is the second brain. Keeping your gut healthy helps to keep your brain happy. Well, that’s been my experience.
Wishing you much happiness this holiday season!