Can you improve your brain health with prebiotics?
Thanks to the latest research, we now do know that probiotics have an influence over our mood and mental performance. That’s why scientists often call them ‘psychobiotics’.
But the latest research shows that prebiotics might be just as important for our brains as probiotics.
This article dives deep into what probiotics are, what their benefits are, and whether you can use prebiotics for brain health.
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber. Your body can’t digest prebiotics, but your gut bacteria can – and they thrive off them.
Prebiotics and probiotics aren’t the same. While probiotics are your friendly gut bacteria and yeast, prebiotics are their food.
Prebiotics help to increase the strength and number of your friendly bacteria. At the same time, this helps whittle down the numbers of ‘bad guys’ in the gut. Which contributes to the overall health of your gut microflora.
“A proper fiber diet literally feeds and makes these bacteria thrive. In turn, they increase in number and kind. The more microbes we have in our intestines, the thicker the mucus wall and the better the barrier between our body and our busy bacteria population. While the mucus barrier lowers inflammation throughout the body, the bacteria aid in digestion, creating a dual benefit.” – Healthline.com
Prebiotics also help your gut bacteria make nutrients for your colon which leads to improved digestion and overall health. These nutrients include short-chain fatty acids such as propionate, butyrate, and acetate.
Your body can absorb these fatty acids directly into the bloodstream. Which is linked to numerous health benefits – including improved metabolism. (3)
Top Prebiotic Benefits
So, what are some of the benefits you’ll get from eating prebiotics?
Research has shown that prebiotics have the potential to boost the immune system, absorption of minerals like calcium, and the production of anti-inflammatory fatty acids in the gut. (4)
Prebiotic fiber also helps balance insulin response after you eat a meal by slowing down the absorption of carbs.[alert type=”success” icon-size=”hide-icon”]Prebiotics may also reduce your stress levels and improve overall wellness.[/alert]
What’s more, since prebiotics strengthen your native gut bacteria, they enhance all of probiotics’ benefits. These include:
- Improved digestion
- Better BM’s
- Healthy cardiovascular system
In addition, it’s shown that prebiotics can also help you with emotional resilience, cognition, and yes, brain health.
Can You Eat Prebiotics For Brain Health?
Prebiotics for brain health, here’s what we know:
Probiotics, which are your friendly gut bacteria, are proven to influence mood and mental health. And as prebiotics are food that strengthens your gut microbiota, they have the potential to help with brain performance and cognitive well-being.[alert type=”warning” icon-size=”hide-icon”]Researchers at Oxford University showed in a study that consumption of prebiotics boosts emotional processing and reduces stress levels in healthy volunteers. (1) [/alert]
Another study fed rats with two types of prebiotics; galactooligosaccharides or fructooligosaccharides. The study found that bifidobacteria multiplied in both rat groups. Bifidobacteria is a beneficial gut probiotic shown to have anti-anxiety and mood boosting effects.
The researchers also found that a brain receptor that plays a critical role in learning, memory, and brain development also grew stronger in these rats after repeatably feeding them prebiotics.
What’s more, the more these rats ate prebiotics, the more their BDNF levels increased. BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor is your brain’s growth hormone – helping to create new neurons. BDNF mainly increases brain cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of your brain which regulates mood, memory, and many cognitive processes.
“The study has provided valuable insights into the complex interactions between the gut and brain,” Dr. Phil Burnet of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford told MTB Europe.” – source
But that’s not where prebiotics’ mental benefits end.
Prebiotics and Sleep
If the latest research is anything to go by, it seems that your quality of sleep might be heavily influenced by your gut health.
A study conducted at the University of Colorado Boulder wanted to find out if prebiotics can improve sleep.
The lead author of the study, Robert Thompson and his team found that dietary prebiotics improve both non-REM sleep and REM sleep following a stressful event. (2)
This impressive finding captured the interest of a “chronic insomniac,” Dr. Michael Mosley. He stumbled upon this study while researching his documentary about sleep. Dr. Mosley went and tested this theory for himself; taking a high-quality gut health supplement daily and measuring its effects on his sleep.
After just 5 days, Dr. Mosley reported feeling significant effects on his quality of sleep.
What Are the Best Prebiotics For Brain Health?
Prebiotics occur naturally in many foods. This is because prebiotics are fiber, which can be found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other types of fibrous food.
Some of the brain foods high in prebiotics include:
- Bananas (the greener, the higher the prebiotic content. And unfortunately less tasty!)
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Chicory root
Side Effects of Prebiotics
Your gut bacteria love prebiotic fiber. However, too much prebiotic fiber at once can cause bloating, gas, and stomach discomfort.[alert type=”warning” icon-size=”hide-icon”]If you find you’re experiencing some of these side effects, try eating less prebiotics at first. Then gradually build your way up. This is especially important if you’re used to not eating that much fiber. [/alert]
If you’re taking a prebiotic supplement, make sure to stick to the recommended dosage. And again, if you aren’t used to having much prebiotic fiber, you may want to start with half of that dose just to avoid any annoying side effects.
Anything Else to Consider?
Ideally you’ll want to combine prebiotics with probiotics for maximum benefits on your brain, and gut health.
But remember, more isn’t always better. Gradually increase your prebiotic and probiotic intake so your body gets used to them over time.
If you do it right though, eating more prebiotics can go a long way. One of the biggest advantages of prebiotics is that they’re resistant to your body’s enzymes and acids. This means they aren’t destroyed during digestion – reaching your colon intact and unchanged. This is one big advantage of prebiotics over probiotics.
Prebiotics are a type of fiber, which makes them a perfect food for your probiotic bacteria. As such, they have an influence over many areas of your health; including digestion, nutrient absorption, immune system, inflammation, and brain health.
Eating prebiotics for brain health is shown to be an effective way of naturally supporting your mood, cognition, and mental state. What’s more, prebiotics boost brain chemicals that trigger the growth of new neurons, along with supporting deep sleep.
Eating a prebiotic rich diet can help you in many ways. But don’t forget about probiotics as well – after all, these are the very bacteria that you’re feeding with probiotics!
If you find that you can’t meet your daily prebiotic intake through food alone, prebiotic supplements can be helfpul. Just make sure to choose a high-quality supplement. As there are a lot of prebiotic supplements out there that are sourced from cheap and low-quality sources.
Further Reading: 20 Best Brain Food For Vegetarians