Nourishing Minds: Link Between Diet and Mental Well-Being

March 10, 2024

There is a general belief that some of our (un)conscious feelings come from a different place than our brain, where all rational decision-making processes occur. This is a fascinating interaction between our gut, the bacteria that live in it, diet and our brain. In addition, emotions and how strongly one experiences them, can influence our food choice and food intake. This bidirectional exchange is called the gut-brain axis.  

Consumer awareness and mental health 

Consumers are increasingly aware of the impact they have on their own mental well-being. Recent research by Sensus reveals intriguing trends: 31% of European consumers express a desire to enhance their mental health in the coming years, and 1 in 3 European consumers aims to uplift their mood and cognitive function. These aspirations are echoed by nearly 60% of US consumers. 

Two in 3 European consumers recognize that their dietary choices influence their mood. 25% of US consumers perceive a link between prebiotics and mental well-being. As awareness grows, understanding the interplay between nutrition and mental health becomes crucial.  

Link between brain and gut 

According to the WHO anxiety and depressive disorders are the most common mental disorders in the world. They can result in distress, impairment in functioning, poor concentration, low self-worth, disrupted sleep, and changes in appetite, amongst other things. These mental health disorders cost the global economy one trillion US dollars each year.  

When researchers noticed a high incidence of anxiety and depression in people with gut disorders, often characterized by an imbalanced microbiome, they began exploring the connection between the gut microbiota and mood disorders. The brain and the gut communicate with each other about swallowing, digestion, hunger, satiety, and even stress and mood. This dynamic exchange is called the (microbiota-)gut-brain axis. Several studies have now indeed shown that people experiencing stress, anxiety or depression have a more unfavorable gut microbiome. 

Dietary fibers for a healthy microbiome 

A key strategy for maintaining or restoring a healthy microbiome is diet. Dietary fibers from plant sources are indigestible in the small intestine and reach the colon intact. Specific types of dietary fibers, like inulin and oligofructose, can also be classified as prebiotics. Prebiotics are fermented by only a selected group of beneficial bacteria, e.g. bifidobacteria, and must confer a health benefit. While fermenting prebiotics the favorable bacteria thrive and multiply. Research has shown that prebiotic supplementation may reduce stress responsiveness, anxiety, and depressive-like behavior. However, more human studies are necessary, considering the differences in lifestyles (e.g. diet, exercise) and the complexity of the human body. 

Chicory inulin and oligofructose play a positive role in shaping the gut microbiota, which might support mental health issues. While more studies are needed, their potential impact on mental health is an exciting area of exploration. 

Nurturing your gut health through dietary choices may have far-reaching effects on our mood and overall mental wellness. Let’s continue exploring this fascinating field! Contact our sales managers to get more information about the health effects of chicory root fiber. 

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Gut brain axis

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