The Amazing Way Fermented Foods Improve Your Mood and Skin

By Dana Poblete

If there were a certain type of food that could bring happiness and the best skin ever, would you even hesitate to eat it? Didn't think so! Well, the secret is out—fermented foods are the key to wellness and beauty.

Picture this: Hundreds of trillions of bacteria live in your stomach and digestive tract, and they make up between one and three percent of your body weight. Doesn't sound pretty, but these good guys are nothing to be grossed out about—they do everything from regulating the immune system to optimizing digestion to keeping the brain sharp as nails. You definitely want these microbes around. Luckily, it's super simple to keep them thriving. All you have to do is load up on fermented foods like miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha, which all provide a hefty dose of probiotics, aka friendly bacteria.

Fermented ginger
credit: The Kitchn

Here's what you need to know about how fermented foods help you look and feel like a million bucks.

They’re Proven Mood Boosters

Mood booster
credit: Unsplash

In yoga, the stomach is believed to be the place where emotional and physical pain get stirred up. You've probably felt it before—butterflies or a sudden wave of nausea when life becomes a little extra. It's pretty obvious that there's a link between emotions and the gut.

Some scientists even call the gut the "second brain," and for good reason—90 percent of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that balances the mood, is produced there. Not only that, but the digestive system also houses 70 percent of the body's immune tissue, so it clearly plays a role in chronic inflammation that occurs when the immune system gets stuck in overdrive. Inflammation correlates with an increased risk of depression; and patients who've been treated for depression show lower levels of inflammation. It's all connected!

A 2015 study of 700 students discovered that those who ate fermented foods regularly had less social anxiety—particularly students classified as neurotics. An earlier study found that women who consumed probiotic-rich foods every day for a month were better able to keep their moods and emotions in check than the control group.

In yet another study, when scientists removed mice's gut microbes, the animals had higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and lower levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a protein in the brain that fights depression. But after being given the probiotic lactobacillus, the mice's cortisol dropped and anxious and depressed behavior diminished; GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter that's used as a model for some anti-anxiety medications, increased naturally, too.

Wanna crush anxiety or shake off a depressed mood? Fermented foods might be an easy and healthy way out.

They Make Your Skin Glow

As if a heightened sense of happiness wasn't enough reason to eat lots of fermented foods, probiotics can also heal skin issues like acne and rosacea, often caused by inflammation. It's simple: Getting your gut health on point equals less inflammation equals better skin.

Licensed aesthetician Rachael Pontillo credits probiotics' influence on digestion as a skin saver, too. "Toxic buildup in the body is a known cause of skin issues such as acne, rosacea, eczema, hyper pigmentation, and premature aging," she says. "Healthy digestion and elimination are key for consistent removal of these toxins. By adding fermented foods to the diet, you can affect the health of the skin on the surface."

Just like the gut-brain connection, the relationship between the gut and skin is real, and it goes both ways. Beneficial bacteria isn't relegated to your insides—the skin's surface has its own microbiome that serves as the first line of defense against infection. Skin microbes actually communicate with the immune system to initiate immune responses. Smart little guys.

No doubt, you're suddenly all about putting pickles and tempeh at the top of the grocery list. But it doesn't stop with probiotics; it's also a great idea to complement them with prebiotic foods. These are fiber-rich foods like fruit, oatmeal, lentils, and beans that feed the good bacteria. Considering everything your faithful microbes do for you, it's the least you can do to return the favor.