Taking Prebiotics Could Help People Cope Better with Stress

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13 Feb 2017 --- New research has indicated that by taking prebiotics, consumers may be able to cope better with stressful life events. According to a new study published in the online journal, Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, regular intake of prebiotics may promote beneficial gut bacteria and recovery of normal sleep patterns after a stressful episode.

Although probiotics are well known to benefit digestive health, prebiotics are less well understood.

Prebiotics are certain types of non-digestible fibers that probiotic bacteria feed on, such as the fibers found in many plant sources like asparagus, oatmeal, and legumes. Certain bacteria also feed on non-fibers such as the protein lactoferrin, which also acts like a prebiotic and is found in breast milk.

“Acute stress can disrupt the gut microbiome,” explains Dr. Agnieszka Mika, a postdoctoral fellow and one of the authors of the study.

 “We wanted to test if a diet rich in prebiotics would increase beneficial bacteria as well as protect gut microbes from stress-induced disruptions.”

Mika adds, “We also wanted to look at the effects of prebiotics on the recovery of normal sleep patterns, since they tend to be disrupted after stressful events.”

In this experiment, test rats received prebiotic diets for several weeks prior to a stressful test condition and compared with control rats that did not receive the prebiotic-enriched diet.

The results showed that the rats that ate prebiotics prior to the stressful event did not experience stress-induced disruption in their gut microbiota, and also recovered healthier sleep patterns sooner than controls.

Dr. Robert S. Thompson, the lead author of the study, explains how the research could be translated into human nutrition.

“The stressor the rats received was the equivalent of a single intense acute stressful episode for humans, such as a car accident or the death of a loved one," Thompson says.

“A next set of studies will be looking exactly at the question - can prebiotics help humans to protect and restore their gut microflora and recover normal sleep patterns after a traumatic event?"

Mika adds that in the mean time, including prebiotics the diets would have no adverse effects.

“They are found widely in many plants, even present in breast milk, and are already commercially available,” she says.

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