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Over recent years, there has been rapidly growing recognition of the gut microbiome and its importance to health and wellbeing.

Comprising trillions of microorganisms such as, viruses and fungi but most importantly beneficial bacteria, the gut microbiome is understood to influence key areas of health. A significant area of interest in this regard is the ‘gut-brain axis’, and the exploration of how gut health and mental health are connected.

With consumers becoming more aware of cognition and brain health, nutrition brands and their formulators can gain vital insight into potential product development opportunities by better understanding the gut-brain axis and consequently, the role of prebiotics. 

What is the gut-brain axis?

In the health lexicon, an axis refers to a symbiotic relationship between two or more systems within the body. The gut-brain axis refers to the complex bidirectional communication system that exists between the gut microbiome and the brain. 

The brain and gut microbiome can send and receive signals from each other through a number of pathways, including the central nervous system (CNS) and enteric nervous system (ENS). This communication is critical in regulating a wide range of physiological processes within the body, including digestion, metabolism, immunity and mood.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises that over the last decade, there has been a 13% rise in reported mental health issues, which can include more commonly reported symptoms such as stress and anxiety. 

As the global prevalence of mental health concerns continues to rise, so too does the need for safe and effective mental health supporting solutions. In fact, recent WHO statistics suggest that mental health conditions are now the leading cause of disability worldwide, with an estimated 260 million people worldwide affected by depression alone. 

Furthermore, data gathered by the UK National Health Service indicates that approximately a quarter of all adults in the UK will experience a mental health disorder in a given year. These findings are also reflected in the United States of America, where similar figures can be found. 

Given the widespread impact of poor mental health and the observed consumer switch from reactive to proactive health management, there is a path in which innovative nutritional solutions can help support mental health in a safe and effective manner. 

The category of prebiotics – non-digestible dietary fibre ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth of beneficial gut bacteria – is one promising avenue for formulators when creating scientifically backed brain-health supporting supplements.

What do we know about the gut-brain axis?

One of the most intriguing elements of gut health science is that we don’t yet have all the answers. The gut microbiome, an eco-system comprising trillions of bacteria and other microbes in the gut, is understood to influence numerous important areas of health and wellbeing and not just supporting the digestive system. The full extent of this influence, and the mechanisms at work, are being uncovered.

While the exact mechanics of the gut-brain axis are still being elucidated, research demonstrates that the gut microbiome can influence brain function and behaviour through a number of different pathways. 

For example, certain types of beneficial bacteria in the gut can produce neurotransmitters and other signalling molecules that can directly impact brain function. Examples include serotonin and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which are known to reduce the impact of stress. In addition, the gut microbiome can modulate the immune system, which in turn can also influence cognitive function and behaviour.

A particularly important pathway through which the gut microbiome is connected mental health is through the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). 

SCFAs are metabolites that can be produced by the fermentation of dietary fibre by certain advantageous gut bacteria. These metabolites are shown to have a range of beneficial effects on overall health, including immune-supporting anti-inflammatory effects, which in turn can support cognitive health. 

Prebiotics and brain health

Prebiotic dietary fibre is a key focal point for formulators developing next-generation health supplements. Given the important role that the gut microbiome plays in supporting overall health, it’s not surprising that there is increasing interest in the potential role of prebiotics within mental health supplement formulation. 

Prebiotics are selectively fermented by beneficial gut bacteria, which ‘fuels’ and supports the growth of these helpful bacteria, which in turn can help modulate the gut-brain axis.

While more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits of prebiotics for mental health, existing evidence surrounding its effects on immune health signalling suggests that prebiotics may be an effective tool for creating simple, safe, and effective brain-health supporting supplements. 

By selectively stimulating the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, prebiotics can potentially play a role in the function of the gut-brain axis to support cognitive health.

Creating effective prebiotic-based supplements

While prebiotics show great promise as a tool for supporting cognition and mental health, it is important to ensure that any supplement is safe, effective, and supported by scientific evidence. 

There are a wide range of prebiotics available to formulators, each with its own unique properties and potential benefits. As the most studied functional ingredient of its kind, Bimuno® GOS stands out as a clear example of why strong scientific backing matters.

Available in both powder and syrup forms, Bimuno GOS is a versatile and highly stable galactooligosaccharide (GOS) ingredient that makes it simple to develop next-generation consumer ready supplements and functional foods. 

Bimuno GOS benefits from a low efficacious dose, displaying a measurable prebiotic effect from just 1.37g daily. For health and nutrition formulators, this means Bimuno GOS can be applied to a very diverse range of product applications in addition to dedicated nutritional supplements. Potential uses include functional foods and baked goods, yoghurts, smoothies, protein powders and smoothies. 

Ready to explore the many advantages of Bimuno GOS? Get in touch with our team today to discover more.