The link between gut health and brain health is frequently talked about in the media but recent research suggests the link could go further still and play a part in weight management.

Find out more about this study and other recently published articles from the world of nutrition here, in this week’s Nutrition News.

Could prebiotics support weight management?

A recent study conducted by the University of Leipzig Medical Centre delves into the potential relationship between prebiotics and cognitive function in the context of obesity. This study, featured in the article “Prebiotics may help weight loss by changing brain's response to food” by MedicalNewsToday, reveals that a diet rich in prebiotics may lead to a decreased brain response to high-calorie food cues related to reward, suggesting a link between gut health, food-related decision-making and, ultimately, weight management.

The research targeted young to middle-aged adults who were overweight and adhered to a typical Western diet. These 59 participants were administered 30 grams of inulin, a prebiotic found in chicory root, daily for a two-week period. During MRI scans, the participants were presented with images of food and asked to rate their desire to consume these dishes. After the MRI session, they were given the dish they desired most and asked to consume it. The MRI scans were conducted four times, both before and after the prebiotic consumption and during a placebo phase, in which participants were given a substance with the same calorie content but without prebiotics.

The results revealed that when participants assessed high-calorie foods, their brain's reward centres exhibited reduced activity after the consumption of prebiotic fibre. This change in brain response was associated with alterations in gut bacteria.

Prebiotics, which are indigestible fibres found in plant-based foods such as onions, leeks, artichokes, wheat, and bananas, are essential for nourishing and promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. They play a critical role in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, impacting digestive health, overall wellbeing, immune function, and nutrient absorption.

Kelsey Costa, a registered dietitian, stated that the study offers preliminary evidence of prebiotic nutrients' influence on food-related decision-making, suggesting a potential pathway for weight management. The study hints at the possibility of using prebiotic fibre to reduce the brain's response to high-calorie food stimuli, which could contribute to more effective weight management strategies.

This research highlights the gut-brain connection and its role in regulating food choices. The findings have sparked optimism for obesity management as rates continue to rise around the world. By focusing on the gut microbiome through dietary interventions, it may be possible to modulate brain function and make it easier for individuals to resist the allure of high-calorie, ultra-processed foods.

Researchers are now conducting a follow-up study to explore the impact of prolonged, high-dose prebiotic use over six months on eating habits, brain function, and body weight in overweight or obese individuals. The preliminary results of this study indicate that effective and sustainable approaches for weight management may lie in the modulation of brain function and food-related decision-making by targeting the gut microbiome.

Recent omega 3 discovery informs “precise nutrition” findings

Researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine have made significant strides in understanding the genetic influence on how Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids impact the health of African-American and Hispanic-American individuals, which has been discussed in the Science Daily article “Omega-3 discovery moves us closer to 'precision nutrition' for better health”. This research is a vital step toward achieving "precision nutrition", which is where personalised diets cater to individual genetic variations, ultimately promoting longer and healthier lives.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, often referred to as "healthy fats," are essential for immune system health, heart health, and other benefits. They play pivotal roles in cell function and are associated with a reduced risk of various illnesses, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and breast cancer. While extensive research has explored how genes affect the utilisation of these fatty acids in individuals of European descent, there has been limited investigation among Hispanic and African-American populations. Addressing this gap, researchers led by Dr. Ani W. Manichaikul focused on genetic disparities among these groups, underscoring the need for diverse genetic studies.

The study examined data from over 1,400 Hispanic-Americans and more than 2,200 African-Americans, collected through the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) consortium. While many genetic determinants for fatty acid metabolism held true across all three groups, some distinct genetic variations emerged in the Hispanic and African-American populations.

These variations explain why different people’s bodies use fatty acids differently, shedding light on lower levels of fatty acids in the blood of individuals with significant American Indigenous ancestry. This groundbreaking research opens the door to precision nutrition, where tailored diets and strategic supplementation can improve health outcomes based on an individual's unique genetic profile.

While further research is needed to confirm these findings, it does highlight the importance of nutritional research across ethnicities.

How diet affects long Covid management

Long COVID, also known as post-COVID-19 condition, is often a debilitating illness experienced by at least 10% of people who have had COVID-19. It encompasses a wide range of symptoms, such as fatigue, fever, difficulty breathing, brain fog, and more. While the factors leading to long COVID are not entirely clear, older age, being female, having other chronic conditions, and experiencing severe COVID-19 appear to increase the risk of developing it.

Some studies, as reported in the MedicalNewToday article “Could some diets help manage long COVID?” point to a potential role of the immune system's misfiring, where it remains activated even after the infection has resolved, leading to persistent inflammation.

In the absence of specific treatments, managing long COVID symptoms becomes crucial. Lifestyle changes, which include getting ample rest, moderate exercise, and following a balanced diet are often recommended. While dietary interventions have shown mixed results in post-viral syndromes, some experts suggest that specific diets may be beneficial for long COVID.

The evidence suggests that anti-inflammatory diets, including plant-based diets, may have a positive impact on mitigating long COVID symptoms. These diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, and bioactive compounds known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which can help reduce inflammation often seen in long COVID patients. The Mediterranean diet, in particular, stands out for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

In addition, researchers are conducting clinical trials to explore the impact of dietary interventions on long COVID. Some trials involve a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet, which may reduce inflammation and improve metabolic and immune functions.

While diet alone is not a cure for post-viral conditions, it can play an essential role in managing symptoms and supporting overall health and wellbeing. While research is ongoing, dietary interventions offer a promising avenue for managing long COVID and improving the quality of life for those affected by this condition.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is Director and Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.