With over 80 million people taking psychiatric medication it makes sense to be searching for alternative ways to help our society to deal with the mental health crisis in our country. A recent article in Psychology Today describes the role of prebiotics in promoting mental health. Among some of the benefits of including prebiotics in your diet, including preventing colon cancer, lowering your cardiovascular risk, preventing obesity and reducing inflammation, prebiotics may also:

#1 Reduce anxiety and depression

  • In mice studies, prebiotics including inulin, FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides) and GOS (galacto-oligosaccharides) provided an “anti-depressant” effect on the mice by reducing their levels of cortisol which is commonly referred to as the “stress hormone”.

#2 Promote mental flexibility and neuronal growth

  • Prebioitcs have shown the ability to promote the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF. BDNF is a plays as an important role in the regulation of synaptogenesis (growth of connection between neurons) and synaptic plasticity.

#3 Improve memory functioning

  • Prebiotics have also been shown to increase levels of BDNF specifically in the hippocampus of mice. The hippocampus is a vital area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestive carbohydrates (a.k.a. Fiber) that promote the growth of healthy microorganisms in the intestines. No, doughnuts and pancakes do not count. Trust me, I wish these carbs did count. Prebiotics are special carbohydrates that resist digestion in the small intestine and travel to the large intestine where they ferment promoting the growth of the “good bugs” in your digestive system.

Probiotics, in contrast, are important to the digestive system and have also been linked to mental health benefits (4). Probiotics are good bacteria in the system that promotes health by controlling the growth of the bad bacteria in the digestive tract.

What You Can Do TODAY!

Our Western diet is highly deprived of many important nutrients and components, including fiber. Our ancestors have been consuming fiber in high amounts for centuries. The RDA amount is 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day, based on gender and age, and many are arguing for closer to even 50 to even 100 grams of fiber per day! Without this precious fiber in our diet we are starving our gut microbiota in severe ways.

Guess what?! We have plenty of healthy food choices that are wonderful ways to consume these healthy prebiotics everyday. Here is a small list to get your started:

  • raw onion
  • garlic
  • leeks
  • lentils
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • asparagus
  • bananas

If consuming 100 grams of fiber per day seems overwhelming to you to start know there are many supplements available to help support you. Please consult your healthcare provider for more information on this.

Here’s to you’re mental health!

Sarah Houy MA, LPC, RYT