Prebiotics are increasing in popularity as scientists discover more about their benefits for human health. Beneficially affecting the health of the human body by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of some groups of beneficial bacteria in the colon, prebiotics are now used in a variety of food products, with yoghurt shown to be an effective delivery vehicle.
We explain the value of prebiotics and everything you need to know about their important function in the body.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are nondigestible, short-chain carbohydrates that pass through the first part of the human digestive tract into the large intestine where they are fermented by gut microbes. The fermentation of prebiotics by gut microbiota produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which are the major nutrients produced by bacteria when they ferment dietary components inside the colon.
Prebiotics are naturally found in some fruits and vegetables, including onions, garlic, chicory root and bananas. They are also sometimes added to yoghurts, cereals, breads and biscuits and can be taken in the form of nutritional supplements.
What do prebiotics do?
Prebiotics act as fuel to help good bacteria grow in the gut, producing nutrients for colon cells, creating a healthier digestive system. They target the microbiota already present within the ecosystem acting as a selective ‘food’ for suitable target microbes with beneficial consequences for the host.
Prebiotics are known to restore the intestinal bacterial balance and enhance the bioavailability and uptake of minerals and nutrients, including short-chain fatty acids. This activity is important, as the good bacteria in the gut helps protect you from harmful bacteria and supports healthy digestion and immune function. Fatty acids can also be absorbed into the bloodstream, improving metabolic health.
What are the benefits of prebiotics?
Prebiotics have been associated with a variety of health benefits and have demonstrated these in well-controlled studies. As well as restoring intestinal bacterial balance and modulating the immune system, they have been known to reduce the prevalence of diarrhoea. Clasado has demonstrated this with its prebiotic Bimuno®. The company has completed numerous studies to demonstrate the various functional properties of Bimuno, showing it to significantly reduce pathology and colonization associated with foodborne salmonellosis to reduce the incidence, severity and duration of travellers’ diarrhoea.
Research has also revealed that a healthy gut microbiome fed by prebiotics has positive effects on bone density and strength – dietary fibres have been shown to increase calcium absorption in the lower intestines. A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that children who tried prebiotics felt more satiated after a meal, showing prebiotics as a useful dietary inclusion in the fight against obesity.
New research is also demonstrating associations between the gut microbiota and inflammatory conditions which could present implications for dietary modulation via prebiotics.
What are sources of prebiotics?
Prebiotics naturally exist in many foods that you may already consume on a regular basis. For the most part, prebiotics can be found in cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage as well as legumes including chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans. They are also becoming increasingly available as a supplement or added ingredient in food.
Biotechnology companies are researching and developing prebiotic-based products aimed at consumers' gastrointestinal wellness for the food and healthcare sectors. For example, Bimuno, a unique prebiotic developed by Clasado, is a blend of non-digestible galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) which enhance the production and activity of bacteria in the colon. It can be added to any food, drink or existing supplement to improve gut.
The Bimuno range currently comprises three products specifically designed for individuals concerned about their digestive and immune health. All of the products in the range contain unique and patent protected second-generation trans-Galacto-oligosaccharide developed by Clasado and have been carefully tested in independent scientific studies.
The science behind prebiotics is still emerging but these supporting players may be taking centre stage in further product developments soon. For now, it’s important to know that prebiotics are functional foods that keep gut bacteria happy and lively. The happier our gut bacteria, the healthier our digestive system and body become.