Prebiotics are a very specific type of food. While many of the food ingredients we consume are digested immediately, prebiotics are a healthy non-digestible food ingredient. When the non-digestible ingredient reaches our large intestines, it allows for growth of bio-cultures . This can provide good digestive health. The positive effects prebiotics have by reaching the intestine in an unaltered form is known as the prebiotic effect.
A prebiotic effect occurs when there is an increase in the activity of healthy bacteria in the human intestine. The prebiotics stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the gut and increase resistance to invading pathogens. These foods induce metabolic activity, leading to health improvements. Healthy bacteria in the intestine can combat unwanted bacteria, which are associated with many diseases and gut complaints.
An example of some prebiotic sources you will find in your local store or supermarket are: –
- raw Jerusalem artichoke.
- raw garlic.
- raw leeks.
- raw or cooked onions.
However not all prebiotics sources are the same and often prebiotic powders with high concentrations of more potent prebiotics can be useful as part of a treatment plan for many gut problems and also just for supplementation. For example a good source of chicory Root (containing inulin ) will help the bacteria in your gut to produce large amounts of short chain fatty acids, a vital nutrient for gut cells and for metabolism of fats and glucose.
Some Health Benefits of Prebiotics
A recent study reported
- The gut microbiota influences metabolic syndrome-associated alterations.
- Prebiotics reduces peripheral and brain inflammation in obese db/db mice.
- Link between prebiotics, hippocampal neurogenesis and spatial memory.
Mounting evidence shows that the gut microbiota, an important player within the gut-brain communication axis, can affect metabolism, inflammation, brain function and behavior. Interestingly, gut microbiota composition is known to be altered in patients with metabolic syndrome (MetS), who also often display neuropsychiatric symptoms. The use of prebiotics, which beneficially alters the microbiota, may therefore be a promising way to potentially improve physical and mental health in MetS patients.
This hypothesis was tested in a mouse model of MetS, namely the obese and type-2 diabetic db/db mice, which display emotional and cognitive alterations associated with changes in gut microbiota composition and hippocampal inflammation compared to their lean db/+ littermates. We assessed the impact of chronic administration (8 weeks) of prebiotics (oligofructose) on both metabolic (body weight, food intake, glucose homeostasis) and behavioral (increased anxiety-like behavior and impaired spatial memory) alterations characterizing db/db mice, as well as related neurobiological correlates, with particular attention to neuroinflammatory processes.
Prebiotic administration improved excessive food intake and glycemic dysregulations (glucose tolerance and insulin resistance) in db/db mice. This was accompanied by an increase of plasma anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 levels and hypothalamic mRNA expression of the anorexigenic cytokine IL-1β, whereas unbalanced mRNA expression of hypothalamic orexigenic (NPY) and anorexigenic (CART, POMC) peptides was unchanged. We also detected signs of improved blood-brain-barrier integrity in the hypothalamus of oligofructose-treated db/dbmice (normalized expression of tight junction proteins ZO-1 and occludin). On the contrary, prebiotic administration did not improve behavioral alterations and associated reduction of hippocampal neurogenesis displayed by db/db mice, despite normalization of increased hippocampal IL-6 mRNA expression. Of note, we found a relationship between the effect of treatment on dentate gyrus neurons and spatial memory. These findings may prove valuable for introducing novel approaches to treat some of the comorbidities associated with MetS.