You have heard of probiotics, often called “friendly bacteria” that are found in foods like yogurt.
Now there is a new term on the horizon—prebiotics.
“There’s a large and expanding body of scientific evidence that bacteria in the gut play a role in health and disease. Prebiotics are foods that contain nutrients that support the growth and activity of these friendly bacteria.” explains Robert Rastall, Ph.D. of the University of Reading in the U.K. “Just as people need food to thrive, so do the billions of healthful bacteria that live in our guts, our gastrointestinal tract,” Rastall added.
Probiotic foods actually contain friendly bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus believed to release healthful substances as they grow in the GI tract.
Prebiotics are indigestible food ingredients that provide no nutrition to people. Their purpose is to nourish the friendly bacteria among the estimated 100 trillion microbes living inside the human GI tract.
Rastall noted that people get small amounts of one of the most common prebiotics, called inulin, from wheat, onions, garlic, chicory and certain other foods. He cited studies showing that when people eat more inulin and other prebiotics, the balance of microbes in the gut shifts to one linked to a range of health benefits.
To help people get more prebiotics in their diet, Rastall’s team in the U.K., working with colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, is finding ways to make prebiotics from plant carbohydrates like pectins, mannans and xylans.
“Prebiotics may prove to be most useful in specific population groups and people with specific health problems rather than the general population,” Rastall said. He cited, for instance, individuals with gastrointestinal diseases, Type-2 diabetes and low-grade inflammation linked to an increased risk of heart disease and other conditions, and people at risk for travelers’ diarrhea.
Read Dr. Leo Galland’s Probiotics Boost Immunity
This research was presented at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, August 19-23, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The idea that the vastly complex microbial ecosystem in the human colon has a profound impact on health is now gaining widespread acceptance in the scientific community and with the food and healthcare industries. Recent research is illuminating the intricate interactions between microbes in the colon, their metabolites and human metabolism. Prebiotics are selectively fermented oligosaccharides that modulate these interactions in the bacterial microbiome to improve health status. The concept is an attractive one from the perspective of the food industry and there is much potential in deriving novel prebiotic oligosaccharides from plant cell wall polysaccharides. This presentation will examine what we mean by a prebiotic and give a critical overview of the status of the science supporting the health benefits. The properties of current plant derived prebiotic oligosaccharides will be discussed and recent data evaluating the potential to derive prebiotics from starch, pectins, mannans and xylans will be presented.