Prebiotics, usually used to improve the health of the digestive system and intestines, may also help to combat insomnia or to promote sleep. This is the opinion of a team of researchers who published the results of their own study in Scientific Reports.
According to the researchers, prebiotics can in fact improve resistance to stress by affecting the intestinal bacteria themselves.
Sleep problems affect tens of millions of people today and this research shows that further treatment with prebiotics is possible.
As Robert Thompson, researcher at the Department of Integrative Physiology and lead author of the study, explains, prebiotics nourish the beneficial bacteria found in our intestines by creating a symbiotic relationship with our bodies. But this has very powerful effects, even on our brain and our behavior.
Prebiotics (not to be confused with probiotics, which are real microorganisms) are beneficial compounds that are not broken down by the body but play an important role in the intestinal flora. Man cannot digest prebiotics but they can serve as nourishment for the intestinal microbiome, that is, the set of trillions of bacteria that live in our intestine or other organs of our body, and can indirectly affect our brains and our behaviour.
To reach these conclusions, the researchers performed experiments on adolescent male rats.
Using mass spectrometry, researchers analyzed faecal samples from rats by measuring their metabolites, small bioactive molecules that are produced by bacteria when food is broken down in the intestines.
The researchers found that rats on a prebiotic diet showed a different metabolome (the sum of all metabolites) and this also influenced the behaviour of the rats themselves as a result of stress.
“Our results reveal new signals from intestinal microbes that can modulate the physiology of stress and sleep,” reports Monika Fleshner, senior author of the study, who believes that these results could lead, perhaps, in the future to new solutions and new options for people who suffer from insomnia but do not want to take narcotics: “With this information, we may be able to develop a targeted therapeutic approach that increases the molecules that protect against stress and compresses those that seem to disturb sleep.