Gut-friendly foods called prebiotics may thwart body-clock fatigue

Gut-friendly foods called prebiotics may thwart body-clock fatigue

College students burning the midnight oil, graveyard shift workers and those whose jobs make them frequent fliers know that such lifestyles can take a toll on one’s health.

But a study of dietary compounds known as prebiotics may someday help those folks recover faster.

Disruptions in our circadian rhythm, or our biological clocks, can wreck our sleep, moods, metabolism and increase our risk for some diseases.

A new University of Colorado Boulder study, paid for by the U.S. Navy, suggests that simple dietary compounds called prebiotics — foods like onions, leeks and artichokes — help stabilize good gut bacteria, making our bodies more resilient to circadian disruption.

The researchers raised two groups of lab rats: One fed a diet heavy in prebiotics, the other, regular rat food. They manipulated the rodents’ sleep cycles for eight weeks, equivalent to traveling to a time zone 12 hours ahead every week for two months.

The rats fed prebiotics more quickly realigned their sleep cycles and core body temperature and their bodies resisted gut-flora changes that often accompany stress.

Prebiotics should not be confused with probiotics, found in fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha and sauerkraut.

The Navy funded the study because its ranks are full of those whose jobs require them to endure odd schedules, often for long stretches.

Clinical trials are underway to determine if prebiotics could have similar effects on humans. Someday, there might be customizable prebiotic mixes available to help anyone forced to work an odd shift better ward off its wearying side effects.

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