It’s not likely taking prebiotics is one of the things that comes to mind when thinking of ways to improve your mental wellbeing. But maybe it should be. Researchers in England found a daily dose of prebiotics helped a group of young women reduce their anxiety while also improving their gut health.
Scientists at the University of Surrey studied prebiotic consumption in a four-week double-blind, placebo-controlled trial and published their findings in Scientific Reports. They used emotion regulation as the measure of anxiety as good emotion processing abilities is an indication of mental wellbeing.
A group of 64 healthy female participants between the ages of 18 and 25 with no current or previous diagnosis of anxiety were given a daily dose of prebiotics or a placebo. None were on vegan diets and none had been on antibiotics in the previous three months.
The prebiotic used was galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) at a dose of 7.5 grams, while the control group was given a similar-looking carbohydrate powder. Prebiotics serve as a food source for beneficial gut bacteria.
All participants were surveyed about their health experiences throughout. Researchers wanted to know about their mood, anxiety and sleep quality. They also provided a stool sample for a sequencing analysis of their gut microbiome before and after the trial.
"This new research marks a significant step forward in that we were able to show that we can use a simple and safe food supplement such as prebiotics to improve both the abundance of beneficial gut bacteria in the gut and to improve mental health and wellbeing in young women,” said Dr. Kathrin Cohen Kadosh, Reader in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Surrey and Head of the Social Brain and Development Lab.
Previous research in animals found gut microbiota had a significant impact on the development and maturation of brain networks and support emotional behavior. And consumption of GOS was shown in other studies to lower secretion of the stress hormone cortisol.
"This is an exciting study that brings together different dimensions in mental health research; finding prebiotic effects in a sub-clinical group shows promise for translational clinical research on multiple markers of mental health,” said Dr. Nicola Johnstone, Research Fellow from the University of Surrey.