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Anxiety, stress and sleep disorders

How the microbiome affects our mental health

Research agreement signed between Fem, University of Southampton and OptiBiotix Health to explore the beneficial effects of the microbiome

Probiotics and gut microbiota are proving to have beneficial effects on sleep quality, thus opening studies on the effect of probiotic supplements. The recent agreement signed between the Edmund Mach foundation, the School of Human Development and Health (HDH) of the medical faculty of the University of Southampton and the OptiBiotix Health company moves in this direction, which have just started a research project to examine the role of probiotic supplements that can modulate the microbiome to improve sleep, stress and anxiety.

Fem's nutrition and nutrigenomics unit has internationally recognized expertise in the study of probiotics, prebiotics, polyphenols and functional foods. In particular, the aim is to "measure" how microbiomes along the food chain can be exploited to improve the nutritional quality of food, food sustainability and improve human health, with a specific interest in fermented dairy products, functional ingredients, whole plant foods, their bioactive fractions (fibers, prebiotics and polyphenols) and probiotics.

The project will be carried out at the Hdh of the medical faculty of the University of Southampton, internationally recognized for its multidisciplinary research in area of nutrition and metabolism. The OptiBiotix Health company is known for developing probiotic compounds to fight obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and skin care. Specifically, with this agreement, a PhD scholarship is funded to study the ability of prebiotics and probiotics to influence sleep, stress and anxiety. The deal includes a double-blind, placebo-controlled human study conducted during a period of stress-induced sleep disruption.

The research follows a series of publications that indicate a relationship between the gastrointestinal microbiota, neurobiochemistry and emotional behavior. It is based on results showing how prebiotics reduced anxiety and depression in the participants. Kieran Tuohy, head of the Fem food quality and nutrition department explains that “sleep disorders and sleep apnea are recognized risk factors for poor metabolic health and cardiovascular risk and are closely related to stress. Recent research has identified an important role for the intestinal microbiota and specific probiotic strains in regulating not only circadian rhythms and the intestinal clock, but also in building resilience to emotional stress". This project will contribute to the understanding of the biomolecular mechanisms that determine changes in emotional behaviors.

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