Daily fibre supplement could help brain function in over-60s

Prebiotics can improve performance in memory tests associated with early signs of Alzheimer's
Prebiotics can improve performance in memory tests associated with early signs of Alzheimer's

A daily fibre supplement could help improve brain function in over 60-year-olds in only 12 weeks, research suggests.

The study showed that the simple and cheap addition of prebiotics – plant fibres that help healthy bacteria grow in your gut – to a person’s diet can improve performance in memory tests associated with early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

However, the supplements – inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS) – were found to have no effect on muscle strength over the three months.

Dr Mary Ni Lochlainn, research first author of King’s College London, said: “We are excited to see these changes in just 12 weeks.

“This holds huge promise for enhancing brain health and memory in our ageing population.

“Unlocking the secrets of the gut-brain axis could offer new approaches for living more healthily for longer.”

Researchers at TwinsUK, the UK’s largest adult twin registry based at the university, looked at how targeting microbiota – the micro-organisms in the intestines – could have an impact on both muscle health and brain function.

Thirty-six twin pairs – a total of 72 people – over the age of 60 were given either sachets of a dummy supplement or the actual supplement every day for 12 weeks.

Everyone in the study also carried out resistance exercises and ate a protein supplement aimed at improving muscle function.

After monitoring the group remotely via video, online questionnaires and cognitive tests, researchers found the fibre supplement led to significant changes in the makeup of a person’s gut microbiome.

According to the study, published in Nature Communications, there was a particular increase in the numbers of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium.

The group receiving the fibre supplement did better in brain function tests, including the paired associates learning test, which is an early marker for Alzheimer’s disease, together with tests of reaction time and processing speed.

Researchers suggest these measures are important for everyday activities like reacting to traffic or preventing a simple trip-up from turning into a fall.

Claire Steves, senior author and professor of ageing and health at King’s College London, said: “These plant fibres, which are cheap and available over the counter, could benefit a wide group of people in these cash-strapped times.

“They are safe and acceptable too. Our next task is to see whether these effects are sustained over longer periods and in larger groups of people.”