Prebiotics ‘can lessen effects of stress’, say scientists

Cork scientists have uncovered a dietary mechanism to reverse the effects of stress.

There is growing evidence that microbes in the gut can play a vital role in regulating brain functions, particularly emotional processing and behaviour.

Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines.

Scientists from the Science Foundation Ireland-funded APC Microbiome Institue at University College Cork have found that two prebiotics could be used to treat stress.

“This opens up a very exciting dietary approach to counter the effects of stress,” said Prof John F Cryan who led the study, together with Prof Ted Dinan.

“If such robust findings could be translated to humans we may have a whole new ‘psychobiotic’ way of managing stress-related disorders, such as depression and anxiety disorders.”

The scientists looked at fructooligosaccharides (FOS) , used as an alternative sweetener because they have a lower caloric value. In the colon, they are fermented by anaerobic bacteria.

FOS is extracted from fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, onions, asparagus and leeks. Some grains and cereals, such as wheat and barley also contain FOS.

The other prebiotic is galactooligosaccharides (GOS) that are added to infant formulas because it relieves constipation and helps babies to develop gastrointestinal bacteria.

GOS that is naturally found in breast milk stimulates the growth of two intestinal bacteria — lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.

The scientists have shown that the two prebiotics, in particular, could modulate anxiety, cognition and stress-related behaviours in healthy mice.

The research also shows that the two prebiotics modified specific gene expression in key brain regions.

Combined FOS/GOS treatment also reduced chronic stress-induced elevations in stress hormones and immune factors, and stress induced depressive-like and anxiety-like behaviour.

Taken together, the data strongly suggests a beneficial role of prebiotic treatment for stress-related behaviour. The research has just been accepted for publication in the journal, Biological Psychiatry.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that almost half of adults rarely or never check the sugar content of food.

Research published by Lloyds Pharmacy found over two-thirds (67%) of adults eat sugary confectionery at least once a day, with women and under-25s the biggest consumers. More than a third (36%) do not know that diabetes can be prevented.

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