New Research Adds to the Accumulating Data Confirming the Significance of the Gut-Brain Axis

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A newly published placebo-controlled, double-blinded, randomized controlled trial featuring 36 pairs of twins aged 60 or older demonstrated that a prebiotic supplement may improve cognitive function. There was a significant improvement in executive functioning and memory in the prebiotic group compared to the placebo group in just twelve weeks. The prebiotic intervention used in this study was an inulin fructooligosaccharide (FOS) supplement.

“Interestingly, this study used a product that contains both inulin and FOS,” said Tina Kaczor, ND, FABNO, a naturopathic oncologist and Editor-in-Chief of the Natural Medicine Journal. “We’ve used these two prebiotics extensively in supplement form for at least the last two decades, so other than some gas at first, we know they reliably support our microbiota and are incredibly safe.”

The latest study also looked at muscle strength and found no improvement in that area.

While more human clinical trials are needed, this new study builds on previous research showing that modulating the gut microbiome has beneficial effects on brain function, with prebiotic ingestion associated with positive microbiome-mediated cognitive health outcomes.

The Prebiotic Diet

In 1995, prebiotics were described as “a non-digestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, and thus improves host health.”

Prebiotics feed the healthy bacteria in the gut. Examples of prebiotic foods include Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, oats, apples, and dandelion greens. Prebiotics are also available as a dietary supplement.

In addition to influencing the gut-brain axis, balancing the gut microbiome can also help improve mood.

Prebiotic dietary fibers confer other health benefits, including:

  • Increases Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli
  • Produces other beneficial metabolites
  • Increases calcium absorption
  • Decreases protein fermentation
  • Decreases pathogenic bacteria
  • Decreases allergy risk
  • Positively influences gut barrier permeability
  • Improves immune system defenses

"Based on the emerging research and my own clinical experience, it's clear that ingesting a variety of prebiotics and phytochemicals like polyphenols is essential for optimal diversity in the gut, which positively influences health on many levels, including the brain," concludes Kaczor. “With my patients, I emphasize prebiotic food choices and then supplement with probiotics when necessary.”