Healthy bacteria could fight stress

Healthy bacteria fight stress
Prof John Cryan, APC Microbiome Institute and Chair, Dept. Anatomy & Neuroscience, University College Cork and Prof Ted Dinan, APC Microbiome Institute and Chair, Dept Psychiatry, UCC.

The types of food you eat could affect your stress levels, according to scientists at a Cork-based institute.

Studies carried out at the APC Microbiome Institute showed that the consumption of certain prebiotics had a positive effect on feelings of anxiety and depression.

These prebiotics – non-digestible food ingredients that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines – are similar to ones found in breast milk and some vegetables. Tests on mice showed that a combination of two specific prebiotics – fibres fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) – led to reduced stress-related behaviour.

Professor John F. Cryan, who led the study alongside Professor Ted Dinan, said the findings could revolutionise the way physicians address stress-related illnesses.

“This opens up a very exciting dietary approach in how to counter the effects of stress,” he said. “If such robust findings could be translated to humans we may have a whole new ‘psychobiotic’ way of managing stress-related disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders.”

The research further strengthens recent evidence that suggests a significant relationship between the gut and the brain. Last month an art exhibition hosted by the Lewis Glucksman Gallery at University College Cork examined how what we see in terms of digestion impacts on how we feel. This included the showcasing of Thomas Rentmeister’s Untitled – a vast, painted field of densely-textured Nutella spread. Here the sheer amount of inedible sweetness is both enticing and revolting to those who encounter it.

“In Neuroscience and Medicine, we’re conditioned to think of only what is happening above the neck in terms of the regulation of our emotions.

“This is changing. Ground-breaking research, including that being carried out in the APC Microbiome Institute in UCC, is literally turning this concept upside down,” Professor Cryan said. “We’re beginning to fully realise the importance that gut function and the food we eat have on our mental wellbeing.

“Gut Instinct is a very novel collaboration, which challenges us to think differently about how we respond emotionally at a sensory and visceral level and reminds us that our state of gut will affect our state of mind.”

The latest study with mice supports this idea and offers new avenues in the field of nutritional psychiatry.

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