The effects of a prebiotic supplementation on reading and cognitive performance in elementary school children: a randomised placebo-controlled study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Liliana Capitao
  • Rita Baiao
  • Hee Baek
  • Nils Kappelmann
  • Rachel Sharman
  • Christopher J Harvey
  • Philip Burnet

External organisations

  • University of Oxford


Background Childhood is a developmental period characterised by substantial changes in cognitive abilities. There has been an emerging interest in how manipulating gut microbiota can enrich the developing brain with improved emotional and cognitive functions, but to date this has not been tested in children. In this study, we investigate whether the daily intake of a prebiotic supplement (galacto-oliogosaccharides, Bimuno®, B-GOS) by children influenced their reading and cognitive abilities.
Methods35 children aged 7-9 with below-average reading scores received a 12-week treatment with the prebiotic or a matched placebo in this randomised, double-blind, between-subjects, placebo-controlled study. Reading and working memory (British Ability Scales) and broader cognition (CogTrackTMSystem) were assessed. As a secondary aim, the effects of the prebiotic on sleep (actigraphy and questionnaire), behaviour, mood, anxiety and cortisol (saliva samples) were also evaluated using mixed-design ANOVAs.
ResultsDaily intake of the B-GOS prebiotic did not affect reading (p=.536), cognition (p>.148), or any of the secondary measures assessed, compared to placebo. Both treatment groups improved over time in reading and memory retrieval speed. In addition, both groups displayed a decline in actual sleep time and immobile minutes.
ConclusionsIn this sample, the prebiotic did not influence any of the outcome measures. It is possible that at this age-range, behaviour, immunity and diets are erratic and could potentially confound the effects of the supplement; or that the influence of gut bacteria on the brain is not fully established in early-life. Future studies should explore the relationship between the gut microbiome and cognition across development.


Original languageEnglish
Article numberS53
Pages (from-to)s316-s317
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2019