Most people have heard about the gut health benefits of probiotics in fermented food such as yogurt. But researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have found fibers known as prebiotics can improve sleep and boost stress resilience, too.
“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,” said Robert Thompson, a researcher in the Department of Integrative Physiology and lead author of the study published March 2 in the journal Scientific Reports. “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 behavior.”
Prebiotics are dietary compounds that humans can’t digest, according to a March 3 news release. Some sources include leeks, artichokes, onions and certain whole grains.
In a previous study, researchers found that rats on a prebiotic diet spent more time in restorative sleep and, after stress, spent more time in REM sleep, which is thought to be useful in recovering from stress. The latest study looked at how prebiotics worked.
Researchers caution that it’s too soon to say if a prebiotic supplement or drug would be safe and effective, but they are hopeful. “Armed with this information, we might be able to develop a targeted therapeutic that boosts the molecules that buffer against stress and tamps down the ones that seem to disrupt sleep,” said Monika Fleshner, senior author of the study. “It’s exciting to think about.”