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 as well as in breast milk.
The findings showed that stress could upset the gut’s microbiome, as well as restful sleep — essential elements for a healthy life.
“Acute stress can disrupt the gut microbiome,” said Agnieszka Mika, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder, in the US.
A diet rich in prebiotics was found to increase beneficial bacteria as well as protect gut microbes from stress-induced disruptions.
In addition, prebiotics also lead to the recovery of normal sleep patterns, since they tend to be disrupted after stressful events.
“So far no adverse effects from prebiotics have been reported…and they are found widely in many plants, even present in breast milk, and are already commercially available,” Mika added.
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For the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, the team tested rats that 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 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, the researchers said.
As the stressor that 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, the results may be relevant in humans, noted Robert S. Thompson from the University of Colorado Boulder.