Prebiotics and Brain Chemistry

prebiotin-brainImage: lizhenry

Only 15 years ago, if any scientist suggested that the bacteria in your gut play a direct role in the health of your brain, that scientist would have been laughed out the door. However, the latest research from the University of Oxford suggests that gut microbiota play a direct role in brain chemistry balance. Could maintaining a beneficial balance of gut microbiota lead to better psychological health and less age-related decline?

The Study

In the study, researchers fed rats two different types of prebiotics, a fructooligosaccharide or a galacto-oligosaccharide. The researchers found that both rat groups gained bifidobacteria, a beneficial gut bacteria that is increasingly shown to positively affect a diverse range of health outcomes. When the researchers gave the rats repeated doses of the prebiotics, BDNF — an important molecule that helps develop and maintain brain cells —  increased significantly. In addition, a brain receptor that plays an essential role in memory, learning, and development, also grew stronger.

“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. “Our results have also provided the basis for further research in humans.”

Prior to the release of the University of Oxford study results, multiple studies have found positive relationships between prebiotic fiber intake, gut bacteria, and illness outcomes.

The First Research of Its Kind

Although recent studies have examined the links between prebiotics, the lower gut and health issues affecting obesity, depression and other problems, this is the first study that examined a possible link between prebiotics, gut microbiota and the brain. Now, the same researchers that discovered the links between prebiotics, gut microbiota and rat brains are starting to examine the same relationships in human beings.

As the results demonstrated, researchers would eventually like to explore the possibility that prebiotics can have a positive effect on cognitive dysfunction, age-related decline and neuropsychiatric illness. Will adding a prebiotic to the diet one day be the go-to solution in the treatment and management of common mental health disorders such as depression? The coming months will tell.

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