Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop in people who have witnessed or experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event. According to recent estimates, around 8 million people are contending with PTSD in any given year.

The disorder can trigger nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts or images, and physical sensations such as pain, nausea and sweating.

There is a strong connection between what we eat and the way we feel physically, emotionally and mentally, and a new study shows that the Mediterranean diet can help to ease, or perhaps even prevent, the symptoms of PTSD.

Participants who stuck to a Mediterranean diet experienced fewer PTSD symptoms.

Individuals who experience PTSD also have an increased risk of developing chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, autoimmune diseases — even premature death.

But there may be a way to alleviate this suffering. New research points to a change in diet as a way to bring relief to those who suffer with PTSD. The study, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that participants who followed a Mediterranean diet experienced a drop in their PTSD symptoms.

The reason was directly related to the way the Mediterranean diet changed their gut biome, the the ecosystem of microbes that live in our intestines.

To test the relationship between diet, gut biome and PTSD, the research team collected data from 191 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study-II which included the Mind-Body Study and the PTSD Sub-study. Participants were assigned to three groups: (1) probable PTSD; (2) exposed to trauma but no PTSD; and (3) no trauma exposure.

All participants submitted two sets of four stool samples, once at the beginning of the study and again six months later. The samples were to provide microbia DNA information and to confirm that the participant’s gut microbiome was stable over six months.

Next, the researchers looked at the relationship between the available dietary information and PTSD symptoms. They found that participants who stuck to a Mediterranean diet experienced fewer PTSD symptoms.

A Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant-based foods and healthy fats (olive oil is the predominant fat) with plenty of veggies, fruits and whole grains.

“It’s exciting that our results imply that the Mediterranean diet may provide potential relief to individuals experiencing PTSD symptoms,” one of the authors, Yang-Yu Liu, of the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in a press release.

“We are eager to learn more about the relationship between PTSD, diet, and the gut microbiome,” he added. “In a future study, we will attempt to validate the efficacy of probiotics as a method to prevent PTSD.”

Whether you have symptoms of PTSD or not, you can reap the benefits of a balanced microbiome. If you’re interested in maintaining a healthy gut by incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your daily meals, here are some simple ways to do it:

  • Switch to extra virgin olive oil. Use it in cooking and as the base for salad dressings.
  • Go nuts. A handful of raw nuts each day is a healthy replacement for processed snacks.
  • Add whole grain breads or other whole grains to your meals. Stay away from processed loaves with added sugar.
  • Include at least three servings a week of legumes.
  • Choose from lentils, chickpeas, beans and peas.
  • Definitely eat less meat. If you crave red meat, save it for occasional consumption and try eating more fish and poultry.
  • Choose wine over other alcoholic beverages. Keep it to one or two glasses per day.
  • Cut out sugary drinks. Replace with water.
  • Hold those cakes, cookies and pastries for special occasions. Choose fruit instead.
  • Be on the lookout for the freshest food available. Opt for locally grown and seasonal foods. Farmer’s markets and organic groceries are good places to shop.

The study is published in Nature Mental Health.