The next time you feel butterflies in your stomach when you’re excited, or experience diarrhea because you’re nervous, chalk it up to your gut and brain communicating with one another. Scientists have been studying this so-called gut-brain axis since 2004. They’ve discovered how prebiotics, such as Sunfiber, can influence the conversation. 


In an education webinar, “Connecting the Dots from the Gut to the Brain,” Michael Lelah described how this process takes place. Lelah is Chief Research Scientist for NutriScience Innovations, which hosted the webinar along with Taiyo International and the Industry Transparency Center. 


What is the gut-brain axis? 

Lelah explained that the gut-brain axis is the two-way biochemical signaling between the GI tract and the central nervous system. “The gut influences what happens in the brain using the circulatory system. The brain influences what happens in the gut using the vagus nerve.” 


Interest in these conversations started in 2004, when a study in mice revealed that the gut microbiome — the colonies of bacteria living in the gut — heavily influence how well the gut and brain can communicate with one another. The scientific community has been investigating this fascinating phenomenon ever since! 


First, the focus was on probiotics, and how the bacteria we consume and grow in our guts influence this natural connection. Then came interest in the prebiotics that feed both the probiotics and the gut’s natural colonies of bacteria. 


Butyrate helps to modulate the gut-brain messaging 

Prebiotics play a role in the production of a short chain fatty acid in the gut called butyrate, which is involved with transporting messages from the gut to the brain. By influencing butyrate production, prebiotics affect focus, attention, executive function (memory), stress, cognition and sleep. 


Prebiotic benefits may go beyond the gut-brain communication. Lelah explained that 80 percent of the cells in the body have butyrate receptors. This is why university labs and research centers are looking at the potential benefits of prebiotic-produced butyrate for skin, metabolism, energy utilization, liver function, lung function, thyroid function, heart health and healthy aging.


“We want to be able to use these ideas to help consumers, especially younger consumers who want to be looking at their long-term health. This is one way to do that,” he concluded.