Following The Massive Earthquake, Here’s Why Mexicans Turn To The Humble Bolillo To Calm Their Nerves

Mexico’s recent earthquake – a 7.1 on the Richter scale – not only left Mexicans running for safety but it also left many scrambling for the humble bolillo to help calm their nerves. It’s one of Mexico’s hundreds of home remedies that our abuelas and tías taught us to cure certain ailments, like arníca to relieve pain or honey with lemon and garlic to cure a cold. But it’s the bolillo to ‘cure fright’ that many are turning to in the days following the massive quake. But just how real is this remedy? Does it actually work?

Here’s everything we know about this alleged cure for the blues.

A bolillo will help calm your nerves… fact or myth?

Times are tough around the world and it’s no different in Mexico. Throw in a massive earthquake and many are looking for ways to help fight the stress and calm their nerves. That’s why following Tuesday’s 7.1 quake, many suggested turning to bolillo. “Comete un pan para el susto” they say, believing that the fear rests in our stomachs and eating a starchy bolillo roll can help settle the stomach.

Following the quake, some people took to the streets to distribute bolillos to residents.

Although it’s a kind gesture, what is the science behind eating a bolillo when one is afraid? It would be easy to assume that sitting down and eating basically anything should help with your nerves, if it’s simply psychological. But across Mexico, it’s very specific that one should eat the bolillo.

It’s an interesting suggestion considering that bread (and, therefore the bolillo) didn’t arrive in Mexico until the conquest in the early 1500s. Flour tortillas didn’t exist before that either. The only similar things that would have been around before were corn tortillas or balls (called “wa” in the Maya area). These are made of amaranth, similar to our alegrías today. But they were mostly for rituals.

So the story of a bolillo calming nerves isn’t likely rooted in ancient Indigenous tradition.

But there is some science behind the myth.

According to the Traditional Medicine of Mexico, it’s wise to eat a bolillo or even a cold tortilla or stale bread. This is because fear does increase our production of gastric juices and the carbs help settle the stomach. But other foods would do the same.

Perhaps the bolillo entered the picture because it was a common and cheap food that most of us have laying around. It’s also bland enough that it won’t mess further with our stomachs which may be feeling all the feels following an emotional or terrifying experience – like an earthquake.

What other foods can we turn to when feeling fearful or stressed?

If you’re not lucky enough to have a stash of bolillos nearby, you can also turn to these fear-fighting foods.

  • Brazil nuts: which are high in selenium and rumored to help fight stress.
  • Dark chocolate: which has a high tryptophan content, which the body uses to turn into mood-enhancing neurotransmitters.
  • Chamomile: Many people around the world turn to chamomile for its relaxing properties. And a recent study found that chamomile did reduce anxiety symptoms.
  • Yogurt: A 2015 study found fermented foods reduced social anxiety in some young people, while multiple studies found consuming healthful bacteria increased happiness in some people.
  • Or even a spoon full of sugar since we know that low blood sugar can lead to sadness or stress.

So, what’s the verdict? We’re going out on a limb here but it seems safe to say there is some truth behind the bolillo cure. But if you’re suffering an extreme case of fear or stress, it doesn’t have to be the roll. You can chomp down on any sort of starchy, bland food and you’ll likely feel a bit better.

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