Prebiotic research going beyond the gut

October 10, 2018

The human body plays host to a greater number of bacteria and other microbes than the number of human cells. Estimates suggest that there are over 10 trillion bacteria living on or in the body, with the vast majority residing in the colon.1 The gut is also where the majority of the immune system lies. Obviously, this interface of microbes with the immune system has a tremendous influence on health. Probiotic supplementation has traditionally been considered one means of influencing the gut microbiota, and by connection the human immune system, to achieve both local and systemic effects. However, current research points to prebiotics as another potent tool for favorably influencing the human microbial flora and supporting health.

Recently, the International Scientific Association for Prebiotics and Probiotics (ISAPP) defined a prebiotic as “a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit.”2 Generally, prebiotic effects have been associated with various plant-based fibers; however, research is showing that there are other substances that also confer prebiotic benefits.

Studies are further highlighting several beneficial clinical outcomes associated with prebiotic intake, not only for digestive health but for other purposes including supporting metabolic, brain, and heart health. Some of the latest research is reviewed here.


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  1. Vemuri R et al. “Gut microbial changes, interactions, and their implications on human lifecycle: an ageing perspective.” BioMed Research International. Published online February 26, 2018.
  2. Gibson GR et al. “Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of prebiotics.” Nature Reviews. Gastroenterology & Hepatology, vol. 14, no. 8 (August 2017): 491-502
  3. Pinheiro I et al. “A yeast fermentate improves gastrointestinal discomfort and constipation by modulation of the gut microbiome: results from a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled pilot trial.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Published online September 4, 2017.
  4. Hume MP et al. “Prebiotic supplementation improves appetite control in children with overweight and obesity: a randomized controlled trial.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 105, no. 4 (April 2017): 790-799
  5. Williams NC et al. “A prebiotic galactooligosaccharide mixture reduces severity of hyperpnoea-induced bronchoconstriction and markers of airway inflammation.” British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 116, no. 5 (September 2016): 798-804
  6. Catry E et al. “Targeting the gut microbiota with inulin-type fructans: preclinical demonstration of a novel approach in the management of endothelial dysfunction.” Gut, vol. 67, no. 2 (February 2018): 271-283