Prebiotics may help prevent sleep disorders

Houston: Specific fibers known as prebiotics can improve sleep and boost stress resilience by influencing gut bacteria and their biologically active molecules, according to a study in rats that may lead to new dietary recommendations for sleep disorders. The researchers explained that prebiotics are dietary compounds which humans cannot digest but serve as nourishment for the trillions of bacteria residing within -- the microbiome. "The biggest takeaway here is that this type of fiber is not just there to bulk up the stool and pass through the digestive system. It is feeding the bugs that live in our gut and creating a symbiotic relationship with us that has powerful effects on our brain and behaviour," said Robert Thompson, a co-author of the study from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

In the study the scientists fed adolescent male rats a diet of either standard chow, or chow infused with prebiotics, and tracked physiological measures in the rodents before and after they were stressed. The scientists said rats eating standard chow saw an unhealthy flattening of the body's natural temperature fluctuations, and a drop in healthy diversity of their gut microbiome after stress.

However, they noted that the rats fed prebiotics were shielded from these effects. The prebiotic-fed rats had higher levels of fatty acids, sugars, and steroids, which the scientists believe may also influence behaviour via gut-brain signalling pathways.

Rats on the standard chow diet saw dramatic spikes potentially sleep-disrupting metabolites, they said, adding that those on the prebiotic diet saw no such increase. "Our results reveal novel signals that come from gut microbes that may modulate stress physiology and sleep," said Monika Fleshner, study co-author from the University of Colorado at Boulder. The scientists however cautioned that it's uncertain whether just loading up on foods rich in prebiotics can promote sleep. "You'd probably have to eat a whole lot of lentils and cabbage to see any effect," Thompson said.

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