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The brain’s reward centers react more strongly to the sight of tempting food than to less tempting options, driving food choices. Evidence suggests the gut microbiome influences these neural activity patterns, ultimately modulating body weight and metabolic health. A recent study found that inulin, a prebiotic derived from chicory root, alters the gut microbiome, reducing the intensity of the brain’s reward system activation.

Researchers gave 59 overweight young to middle-aged adults 30 grams of inulin or a placebo every day for two weeks. Then, the participants underwent functional MRI scans while viewing images of various foods and rating the foods' desirability. Finally, they ate the most desired food and underwent more MRIs. After a two-week break, they switched to the alternate treatment. The researchers collected blood and fecal samples from the participants before and after the two interventions.

They found that the participants' reward-related brain activation in response to high-calorie food stimuli decreased after consuming the prebiotic inulin. A shift in the gut microbial composition accompanied these changes.

These findings suggest that prebiotics influence dietary choices via alterations in the gut microbiome. They also highlight the complex interplay between the gut, brain, and the body’s microbial partners. Learn more about the gut microbiome in this episode featuring Dr. Eran Elinav.

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