As you eat your dinner, some pretty fascinating things are going on in your body that go well beyond filling your stomach and keeping your body fueled.
- As you swallow, multiple enzymes in your gastrointestinal tract release the nutrients from your food into your bloodstream and deliver them to the muscles and organs in your body to give them energy.
- You are also feeding the billions of bacteria at home in your gut. In fact, there are at least two pounds of them.
- Interestingly, you are also actively feeding your brain, which requires a lot of fuel – and prebiotics.
Really? Your brain and gut work together? “Absolutely,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback. “That’s because what you eat doesn’t just feed your active body, it also profoundly influences your mental as well as physical health. Even more interesting, what your body can’t digest may be the biggest boon to your physical and mental well-being.”
- Every person’s microbiome is distinct, influenced by age, genetics, diet, and sex.
- There’s a sort of secondary market for the indigestibles in your colon. This is where an incredibly diverse family of permanently entrenched bacteria feed on the enzyme-resistant carbohydrates you eat.
- Prebiotics, types of dietary fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut, influence the production of gut bug-derived metabolites like short-chain fatty acids, compounds that play a pivotal role in gut-brain communication.
- Your colon actually ferments these in ways unique to your inner gut biome. The composition of this unique microbiome influences such functions such as memory, sleep, appetite, vulnerability to stress, anxiety, depression, and lots more.
“In other words,” says O’Neil, “your gut may have way more to do with your brain than you ever thought possible.”
Recent studies show that it is prebiotics that curb your brain’s response to stress, dampening secretion of the hormone cortisol. Prebiotics also step up to regulate the way your brain processes emotional information, helping to keep it from depression.
What prebiotics can you eat to help your brain-gut connection?
Nondigestible carbohydrates (fiber), prebiotics act as fertilizer for specific strains of healthy gut bacteria.
The best-researched prebiotics are complex carbohydrates called FOS (fructooligosaccharides), which are found in fruits and vegetables.
GOS (galactooligosaccharides) are another helpful prebiotic strain, found in legumes.
New research has also discovered that polyphenol antioxidants in green tea, red wine, blueberries, and cocoa boost populations of beneficial bacteria in your microbiome. No wonder you get an emotional release after eating chocolate and consuming a glass of red wine!
The first few months of life and adolescence seem to be particularly important times for regulation of gut-brain health. This is because the diversity of the microbiome during that period will have lasting effects on the adult body, helping set the body’s stress threshold for life during certain sensitive periods of development, when the brain is growing especially rapidly.
Overall, says Leanne O’Neil, prebiotics are dietary components that can promote gut and brain health with links to physical health and mental well-being at any age. So eat – knowledgeably!