How Prebiotics Can Affect Mood & Appetite

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK/TUGCEOZTURK

These days you'll see the word "probiotics" listed on packaging of products from yogurt to fermented foods to supplements. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that help keep our digestive tracts healthy. Various strains of probiotics may help improve glucose metabolism in people with Type 2 diabetes, digestive issues such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea and diverticulosis, as well as help keep our immune system strong.

So what's the secret to increasing the amount of good bacteria in your gut?  Well, you already know to eat yogurt, fermented foods or take probiotic supplements, so this answer might surprise you: Increase the amount of prebiotics you eat!

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are what probiotics eat. Prebiotics are food components, such as fiber, that cannot be broken down by our own digestive enzymes, but rather are fermented by our gut bacteria. Some examples of prebiotic foods include leeks, asparagus, artichokes, garlic, onions, wheat, bananas, soybeans, honey, almonds, oatmeal, red wine and legumes. Each type of prebiotic promotes the growth of different strains of healthy bacteria, so a diet that is rich in a variety of fiber sources supports microbiome diversity.

The prebiotic fermentation process stimulates the growth of good bacteria in our gut. Some studies even have shown that eating prebiotics can reduce the number of pathogenic bacteria in our gut, such as clostridia or salmonella. Fermentation of undigested carbohydrates creates short-chain fatty acids, which can cross the blood-brain barrier.  Short-chain fatty acids send signals to the brain to control appetite and secrete serotonin. Scientists have discovered interactions between the nervous system and microbiome, dubbing this the “gut-brain axis.” There is emerging evidence associating the regulation of mood, stress and anxiety with prebiotic intake.

The Takeaway

If you want to give your gut microbiota a boost and help reduce stress and anxiety, make sure you eat plenty of prebiotic foods. The saying “you are what you eat” applies to bacteria, too!

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Chelsea Gloeckner
Chelsea Gloeckner is a student in Mount Mary University's Coordinated Program of Dietetics and is also pursuing her master's degree. She owns a nutrition coaching business called VICTAE.