By John Summerly

Prebiotic foods are linked with reduced risks of skin conditions, digestive problems and even autoimmune disease. Over two thousand years ago, Hippocrates stated that ‘All Disease Begins In The Gut.’ A first-of-its kind study by University of Colorado Boulder scientists suggests that lesser-known gut-health promoters can have an impact on the body, improving sleep and buffering the physiological impacts of stress.

The benefits associated with pro- and prebiotics are strain- and substance-specific, respectively, and must be shown through adequate clinical trials reflective of the dose of pro- or prebiotics present in the food at the time of consumption.

Probiotics and prebiotics are components present in foods, or that can be incorporated into foods, which yield health benefits related to their interactions with the gastrointestinal tract (GI). While the benefits of prebiotics have come to light in more recent years, recognition of probiotic effects dates back to the 19th century when the French scientist Louis Pasteur (1822 -1895) postulated the importance of microorganisms in human life; this was further reinforced by work done by 1908 Nobel Prize-winner Elie Metchnikoff.

“We found that dietary prebiotics can improve non-REM sleep, as well as REM sleep after a stressful event,” said Robert Thompson, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Integrative Physiology and first author of the new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

 Prebiotics are dietary fibers found naturally in foods like chicory, artichokes, raw garlic, leeks and onions. When beneficial bacteria digest prebiotic fiber, they not only multiply, improving overall gut health, but they also release metabolic byproducts. Some research suggests these byproducts can influence brain function, explains lead author Monika Fleshner, a professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology.

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