Prebiotics, the fibers that feed the good bacteria in the gut, can protect children from the effects of early life stress (ELS), according to scientists from University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland and Mead Johnson Pediatric Nutrition Institute in Indiana and the Netherlands.
Published in the European Journal of Neuroscience, their findings demonstrated that introducing prebiotics to mice that had been separated from their mothers at birth leads to better coping mechanisms and enhances cognitive abilities like spatial learning.
These findings also underscore the role of the gut microbiome – the trillions of bacteria found along the gastrointestinal tract – in altering stress response and treating neurological deficits due to ELS.
ELS has short- and long-term effects on human health
ELS has long been studied because of its presumed detrimental consequences to different aspects of human health.
In a recent article published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers from the Department of Psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook (SUNY at Stony Brook) examined the molecular mechanisms behind ELS and its short- and long-term consequences.
For starters, ELS is an all-encompassing term that includes all forms of abuse and neglect experienced during childhood. Because it occurs during this critical period in life, ELS has been linked to a range of consequences that manifest during or before the period of adulthood.
That being said, ELS is a lot more common than most people think. In fact, a 2008 report indicated that about 65 percent of people in the U.S. experienced at least one adverse childhood event. On the other hand, 12.5 percent may have experienced as many as four adverse childhood events.
Past studies found that ELS is also linked to a range of conditions and health complications that manifest in adulthood or in later life, including ischemic heart disease and a high resting heart rate, a signal of heart trouble ahead. Depressed patients that had experienced ELS also tend to have a high resting heart rate.
Certain animal studies of ELS also report anxiety– and depression-like symptoms in rats. Other animal studies that featured maternal separation in rats also reported higher heart rates and increased inflammation in response to stress, indicating the presence of ELS.
Furthermore, ELS might also lead to poorer health outcomes through genetic mechanisms. The presence of certain genes, for instance, might render a person more susceptible to the effects of stress and place them at a higher risk of mood disorders like depression and other neurological conditions.
Taken together, these findings suggest that ELS can have a significant impact on markers of inflammation, heart health and brain health. That being said, emerging research suggests that nutritional approaches targeting the gut microbiome might be able to modulate stress response and treat stress-induced neurological deficits.
Prebiotics can modulate the detrimental effects of ELS
To assess the influence of the gut on ELS, scientists from UCC and their colleagues from Mead Johnson Pediatric Nutrition Institute in Indiana and the Netherlands conducted an experiment on mice that had been separated from their mothers.
The team fed 21-day old mice a milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) and/or a polydextrose/galactooligosaccharides prebiotic blend. The mice had either been separated from their mothers for three hours or left alongside them undisturbed.
At the end of the trial, the team found that mice fed neither the MFGM nor the prebiotic blend experienced greater internal pain (visceral hypersensitivity) and exhibited a decline in their spatial learning and memory abilities.
In contrast, mice fed the MFGM alone did not experience as much visceral pain. On the other hand, mice fed a combination of the MFGM and prebiotic blend exhibited the best response to pain out of the three groups.
Supplementation of MFGM and the prebiotic blend alone or in combination also enhanced cognitive abilities like spatial learning and memory. In addition, the team found that the MGFM and prebiotic blend combination increased the number of microbes in the gut. It also resulted in more diverse gut bacterial communities.
Furthermore, supplementation of the prebiotics alone led to a better response to stress. This also indicates better coping mechanisms.
Taken together, these findings demonstrate that supplementation of MFGM and prebiotic blend alone or in combination can help modulate the adverse behavioral effects of ELS.
These findings also suggest that the gut microbiome might be involved in the manifestation of neurological deficits and health complications linked to ELS, but this requires further research.
The team also notes that this is the first study to demonstrate that MFGM consumption, not just prebiotics, can reduce the adverse effects of ELS. (Related: Prebiotic-rich diet helps you manage stress better by altering specific areas of your brain.)
Read more articles about the harmful effects of stress on human health at Mental.news.