This Type Of Fiber Can Enhance Sleep & Manage Stress, Study Finds
Prebiotic nutrients help nourish your microbiome's good bacteria, which can support healthy digestion, but according to new research, the benefits of prebiotics go way beyond the gut.
A study published in the journal Scientific Reports discovered the dietary fibers in prebiotics produce metabolites that might enhance sleep and help manage stress.
What did the researchers find?
Scientists at the University of Colorado–Boulder split young, male rats into two groups and studied the physiological effects of different diets. One group ate a normal diet, while the other was given a diet of prebiotic-rich foods.
While sleeping, the group who ate prebiotic nutrients spent more time in non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep, which is a dreamless sleep state that promotes restoration. After experiencing stress, though, they spent more time in rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, which the study called "stress recovery."
The group who ate a normal diet experienced unhealthy changes in body temperature, and when under stress, their gut microbiomes became less diverse.
"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 lead author Robert Thompson, Ph.D. "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."
How do prebiotics help manage stress and sleep?
After determining that prebiotic fibers do, in fact, "promote stress robustness and good sleep," senior author Monika Fleshner, Ph.D., said they wanted to pinpoint the exact signal that triggered these positive effects.
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To do this, they studied stool samples of both rat groups and measured their metabolites (aka the molecules produced after food is digested).
Diets full of prebiotic fiber maintained more fatty acids, sugars, and steroids, which through the gut-brain connection, can promote healthier neural activity and functioning. Not only were they abundant in healthy metabolites, but they also lacked two sleep-disrupting molecules that were present in the non-prebiotic group.
How can I make sure I'm getting enough prebiotic fiber?
Certain foods, like leeks, cabbage, onions, and lentils are rich in prebiotic fibers. Since the rats in this study were fed extremely high doses of the nutrient, it's unclear whether diet alone can promote sleep.
"You'd probably have to eat a whole lot of lentils and cabbage to see any effect," Thompson said, so how much is enough?
C.U. Boulder is currently performing human studies, which when complete, might be able to answer that question.
"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," Fleshner said. "It's exciting to think about."