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health leadWe have all experienced ‘butterflies in our stomach’ when faced by any unexpected, irregular or high-pressure situation. Be it meeting new people or answering probing questions, sitting for an exam or giving a job interview, even the most extroverted among us feel anxious.

Not to worry – because scientists have discovered a method to “potentially help people overcome social anxiety”. A recent study of over 700 college students’ lifestyle, exercise and dietary habits, published in Psychiatry Research, concluded that pickles (including pickled cucumbers and our desi achaars) contain probiotics and bioactive peptides that help alleviate anxiety.

So, how do pickles help you de-stress? Research has established a close link between anxiety and our gastro-intestinal system. The probiotics found in pickles and other fermented foods (including Greek yoghurt, kefir and kimchi) reduce gut inflammation, a known trigger of stress-inducing hormones in the body.

Now the million dollar question is: can overcoming anxiety be as simple as eating pickles? Probably not, says Reid Wilson, author of Don’t Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks. Fermented foods can help people experiencing anxiety only to a certain extent, but when these symptoms become chronic, a visit to a psychologist becomes mandatory.

Another researcher, Matthew Hilimire, points out that eating fermented food can reduce but not eliminate anxiety altogether. As for how much fermented foods should people be eating, he advises that for now, “more is better”.

And that is good news for all of us. A Pakistani dastarkhwan is not considered complete without an assortment of achars, chutneys and raita. In the process of writing this piece, I ended up eating pickles everyday and my moods showed a definite turn for the better.

Therefore, the next time you get goose bumps or feel your heart race, take a deep breath and reach out for a jar of pickles.

– Dr. Summaiya Syed-Tariq
The writer works as Senior Medico-legal Officer at the Police Surgeon Office, Karachi.