Prebiotics Improve Mental Health
Eating a healthy diet filled with plenty of fresh plant foods may not make all your dreams come true, but it can probably make you a happier, better-adjusted person. That’s because some recent studies have shown that a healthy gut microbiome is linked to better mental health. While these foods are undoubtedly good for us, they’re even better for our friendly gut bacteria. Eating foods that supply prebiotics—indigestible fiber and other nutrients that bacteria thrive on—benefits mental health by encouraging the growth of the kinds of beneficial bacteria that work to keep us happy and healthy.
Higher intake of prebiotics is linked to reduced anxiety. The bacteria work to reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Other research has shown that probiotics appear to boost immune system function, help us lose weight, and improve cardiovascular health. Scientists are still attempting to understand exactly how the gut biome interacts with the brain, but they suspect that a major cranial nerve enervating the gut is involved.
Remarkably, some researchers are actively investigating the role of probiotics in the treatment of major mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety disorders, and even eating disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome. A recent article published in the French journal, Pathologie-Biologie, said it best: “The gut microbiota is increasingly considered as a symbiotic partner in the maintenance of good health.”
Note the use of the word “symbiotic.” Symbiosis is a term from biology that describes a mutually beneficial relationship between two different, yet complementary organisms. Each gains something from the partnership, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Conversely, when one’s diet is poor, beneficial gut bacteria may decline, encouraging the overgrowth of less-friendly bacteria. Unlike prebiotic-loving friendly bacteria, these rascals can cause health problems ranging from increased systemic inflammation to poor mood. Naturally, they tend to thrive on sugar.
Clearly you can boost your overall health—and maintain it—by eating foods rich in healthy gut bacteria; think yogurt, kimchee, cheeses, kefir, sauerkraut, and other products with active cultures. It’s also important to keep your new residents happy, by feeding them a steady diet of their favorite, prebiotic foods: think whole grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables.
Have you tried taking a probiotic food or supplement regularly? What did you think? Did you notice an improvement in your health? I’d love to hear your feedback.
Fond G, Boukouaci W, et al. The "psychomicrobiotic": Targeting microbiota in major psychiatric disorders: A systematic review. Pathol Biol (Paris). 2014 Nov 2. pii: S0369-8114(14)00163-1. doi: 10.1016/j.patbio.2014.10.003. [Epub ahead of print]