If you’re feeling stressed out, welcome to the club. Statistics show that stress in general, as well as extreme levels of stress, are both on the rise in the United States — and many people feel they’re simply not doing enough to manage that stress.
There are plenty of tried-and-true methods that can help people de-stress – such as exercise, socializing, and participating in hobbies – but there is one very powerful stress management technique that has slipped under the radar: adding prebiotics to the diet.
While probiotics have been getting a lot of much-deserved attention lately for their significant health benefits, prebiotics have been largely glossed over for some reason. Probiotics are the good bacteria that are found in fermented foods, whereas prebiotics serve as the food for this “good” gut bacteria. Prebiotics might be lesser known than probiotics, but they are no less powerful.
According to persuasive research from the University of Colorado Boulder, prebiotics can help manage stress by altering the structure of the brain in constructive ways.
The researchers divided three-week-old male rats into groups and gave some standard chow, while others got chow with prebiotics in it. They then measured how their diets impacted their behavior using tests such as open field tests, which assess anxiety levels by measuring how much time the animals are willing to spend in open areas. They also used EEG brain activity testing to monitor the animals’ sleep/wake cycles, as well as their gut bacteria and body temperature.
They found that not only where the supplemented animals less anxious, but they also slept better than the control group. The mice who took prebiotics spent more time in the restful and restorative non-REM sleep then those that did not take prebiotics. The researchers also say that the dietary prebiotics can improve sleep in the REM and non-REM stages after stressful events.
Adding even more significance to the findings was the fact that the regions in the brain associated with brain plasticity actually increased in size in those rats that were fed prebiotics. Even though this particular trial specifically examined brain development in young animals, the researchers say that they believe prebiotic ingredients can protect people of any age from stress.
Are you getting enough prebiotics?
Some good natural sources of prebiotic include artichokes, leeks, onions, raw garlic, and chicory. When gut bacteria digest the prebiotic fibers found in these food, it causes them to multiply, which has the effect of improving get health overall. It also releases byproducts that can impact brain function.
Fortunately, prebiotics are heat-resistant, which means cooking foods that contain them won’t destroy them and they will reach your intestine without being affected by the digestion process.
The prospect of getting rid of stress is probably more than enough to send you the grocery store in search of food that contains prebiotics. However, you might also like to know that they have plenty of other beneficial effects for your body. For example, because they improve the gut microbiome, they can help combat constipation and diarrhea, prevent inflammatory bowel disease, help with intestinal cell detoxification, and increase nutrient absorption.
One particular type of prebiotic called resistant starch has been shown to help stabilize blood glucose levels, reduce appetite, encourage weight loss, and increase sensitivity to insulin. However, it’s important to keep in mind at this only applies to natural resistant starches and not those made with chemical processes. Resistant starch can be found in unripe bananas and plantains; potatoes and legumes that have been cooked and then cooled; potato starch; and cassava powder.
Adopting a healthy habit to help manage stress is a win-win situation for your mind and your body.
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