Feed Your Gut & Fend Off Stress With The Psychobiotic Diet
For some time now, researchers have known that food influences our mental well-being. However, most studies on nutritional interventions for neurological health have focused on single foods rather than realistic, whole-dietary approaches.
That's exactly why scientists from Cork, Ireland, set out to see if a psychobiotic diet designed to promote gut health has a positive influence on mental well-being1 with a new randomized controlled study (RCT) from Molecular Psychiatry.
What is a psychobiotic diet?
A term coined by study co-authors Timothy "Ted" Dinan, Ph.D., and John Cryan, Ph.D., the psychobiotic diet leans into the gut-brain axis by prioritizing gut-healthy foods known to support gut microbial balance (i.e., whole grains, prebiotic fruits and vegetables, legumes, and fermented foods) and discourages the consumption of sweets, sugary drinks, and processed foods.
The study diet included:
- 6-8 daily servings of fruits and veggies high in prebiotic fibers (e.g., apples, bananas, leeks, onions)
- 5-8 daily servings of whole grains (e.g., oats, whole wheat, quinoa)
- 2-3 daily servings of fermented foods (e.g., sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha)
- 3-4 weekly servings of legumes (e.g., chickpeas, lentils, peas)
The psychobiotic diet study design.
The study included 45 healthy adults (ages 18-59) with suboptimal dietary habits.
The study group was given information on the components of the psychobiotic diet and asked to follow it as closely as possible. The control group was given minimal lessons on general nutrition (rather than psychobiotic-focused lessons).
Researchers examined fecal microbiota composition and function, stress, overall health and diet, and a metabolic profiling of blood, urine, and fecal samples, both before and after the four-week trial period for both groups.
How a psychobiotic diet influences mental well-being.
Participants following the psychobiotic diet experienced a greater reduction in perceived stress. Although there was no significant difference of stress response between the control and study group, higher adherence to the study diet resulted in stronger decreases in perceived stress.
While changes in gut microbial composition were subtle for the study group, significant changes in 40 specific fecal lipids (thanks to a reduction in total dietary fat and increase in monounsaturated fats) and urinary tryptophan metabolites (an essential amino acid vital to key protein synthesis and healthy inflammatory response) were also observed.
In just four weeks, participants following a psychobiotic diet rich in high-fiber and fermented foods experienced lower perceived stress levels, healthier bowel movements, healthier inflammatory metabolite profiles, and slightly improved microbial composition and function.
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Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.