The Case for Prebiotics


In 2007. Danone's functional foods division reported revenues of approximately $6 billion.

Consumers in the United States are slowly recognizing what nutritional scientists have known for years-that supporting a beneficial colonic microflora is vital to maintaining a healthy digestive balance. How to achieve that goal is the question.

Research has been under way for years to determine the optimal combination of probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics. According to the World Health Organization (Geneva, Switzerland), probiotics are live microorganisms, that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. Probiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth and/or the activity of beneficial microorganisms already in people's colons. When probiotics and prebiotics are mixed together, they form synbiotics.

Europe and Japan have been a wellspring for pre- and probiotic foods and supplements. Danone (Paris), in particular, has been strong.

In 2007, its functional foods division reported revenues of about $6 billion. U.S. pre- and probiotic sales have not risen to the same level because consumers have yet to fully understand the relationship between microflora and gut health, but there are encouraging signs that progress has been made.

Prebiotic Research
Prebiotic fibers, like inulin and oligofructose, are among the world's most researched food ingredients. Numerous studies have linked inulin and oligofructose to improved digestive health, function, and immunity. Rigorous scientific research has shown time and again that supplementation with inulin and oligofructose can impart a wide variety of total body benefits that span a lifetime.


BOTTLE CLOSURES with built-in chambers to keep sensitive ingredients away from liquids could prove to have packaging benefits for probiotics.

The Drop-Top is a newly patented container closure from Starone Group (Frankfurt). The Drop-Top has an internal cavity that keeps liquids, powders, gases, granules, or tablets separate from a liquid product in a bottle until a beverage is ready to be consumed. When customers twist the closure's top 360°, the turning motion cuts a seal in the closure's product chamber, releasing the ingredients and allowing them to drop down into and mix with the contents in the primary container.

Examples of materials that can be contained in the closure's chamber include aromas, syrups, extracts, flavors, effervescent tablets, and other sensitive ingredients. Products can be stored in the chamber in a dry or liquid state.

At the Natural Products Expo trade show in March, Global Harvest Group Inc. (Lynchburg, VA) debuted a cap offering the same type of benefit-its patented HealthyCap.

The bottle closure features an inner chamber that can house liquids, powders, and granules, keeping them separate from a liquid product in a bottle. "Most ingredients become ineffective after 50 hours in an aqueous solution," says Global Harvest CEO Marcos Gonzalez. Sensitive probiotic formulations can remain housed in the cap's chamber until the moment of use. This may allow probiotic formulations to claim a longer shelf life.

To operate the cap, users simply twist the top of the cap to release product from the chamber into the liquid in the bottle. The chamber, located on the bottom of the cap, features an orifice in which a plunger sits. When users twist the cap, the plunger, which is attached to the cap's top, retracts, thus unplugging the orifice and allowing product to drop down through the orifice and into the liquid in the bottle below. The cap's function is intuitive, and the cap is easy to use.

Products that can be housed in the cap include vitamins, minerals, herbs, nutrients, flavorings, or supplements. In its marketing materials, Global Harvest Group describes its product as: "A revolutionary cap technology for the delivery of nutritional and pharmaceutical ingredients into water or other beverage liquids. This cap technology enhances stability, product potency, shelf life, and may allow efficacious claims to be made for the expansion of new markets in the entire industry."

-Jennifer Kwok, Editor

For example, supplementing infant formula with prebiotic fibers has been shown to boost levels of healthy bifidobacteria in the colon, improving bowel function and resistance to infections, while reducing the occurrence of all-too-common symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and fevers. In adolescents, Orafti Synergy 1 oligofructose-enriched inulin in particular has been shown to produce positive effects on bone health including enhanced calcium absorption and increased bone mineral density. In adults, inulin and oligo-fructose have been shown to improve bowel health and act as a barrier against harmful compounds and microorganisms in the GI tract. Synergy 1 has been shown to boost mineral absorption for better bone health in, for example, women after menopause.

In combination with probiotic bacteria, inulin and oligofructose have been shown to reduce key biomarkers of colon cancer risk.

Overall, inulin and oligofructose have been shown to help maintain proper digestive system function and balance by increasing the presence and vitality of beneficial bifidobacteria. Studies in older people have indicated that inulin and oligofructose supplementation can increase intestinal levels of bifidobacteria, helping to reverse signs of digestive aging and improving intestinal function while supporting wellness.

Weight Management and Health
Characterized by a low glycemic index, high fiber content, satiating effects, and support for normal glycemia and lipid metabolism, inulin and oligofructose offer consumers a number of weight-control benefits. An increasing body of research demonstrates their impact on satiety, metabolic function, and appetite control.

Prebiotic fibers have long been shown to assist in maintaining a healthy body weight. Recently, leading-edge clinical data presented at the first BENEO Scientific Symposium held in Brussels has helped to clarify the important role that prebiotic fibers may play in weight management. As discussed by Kieran Tuohy, PhD, (Food Biosciences, University of Reading, UK), a considerable body of research has been published confirming the impact of inulin and oligofructose in stimulating beneficial gut bacteria. Current research is investigating the role that gut microbiota has to play in regulating energy homeostasis and glucose metabolism.

Measurable differences have been found in the balance of bacteroidetes and firmicutes between obese and lean subjects, with the ratio between these two major phyla in obese adults favoring bacteria that are capable of harvesting additional energy from the diet. Colonizing germ-free animals with the microflora of obese individuals has been shown to lead to an increase in body weight.

Lower populations of bifidobacteria have also been found in the colonic material from obese rats; this has stimulated interest in the potential role of inulin and oligofructose in weight management. The obesogenic lifestyle is characterized by a high fat intake, low intake of fiber, and lack of physical activity. If this could be altered by influencing fiber levels and gut health, could a benefit be realized? Early work on animal models has suggested that a high-fat diet alone markedly reduces the levels of bifidobacteria and bacteroides and increases endotoxemia. Addition of oligofructose to the diet returns both of these levels to normal, while addition of cellulose does not yield a similar effect. This suggests that fermentation plays the key role in counter-acting the negative effects of the high-fat diets on gut microbiota.

Appetite and Food Intake Regulation


INSTITUT ROSELL-LALLEMAND (Montreal) and the Spanish pharmaceutical group Salvat launched a probiotic dietary supplement in Spain based on Lactobacillus plantarum 299v, a strain said to be scientifically and clinically documented for its beneficial effects on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients.

Marketed under the brand name Protransitus LP, the probiotic was launched during the 12th annual meeting of the Spanish Society of Gastroenterology (Asociación Española de Gastroenterología) in Madrid, when Spain became the 10th country to have the probiotic product in its markets.

"In Spain, the prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome has been estimated to be 11.2% of the population in 2006, affecting over 4.5 million people, but experts consider that IBS is largely underdiagnosed in most countries and still represents a very high level of unmet medical needs due to the complexity and lack of complete understanding of the syndrome etiology," commented Maxence de Villemeur, product manager for the Gastroenterology for Institut Rosell-Lallemand.

"Probiotics appear as a promising natural and global solution to address this functional disorder, and in particular the strain L. plantarum 299v, which benefits from a good level of clinical support. We are very confident in our partner's strategy and positioning to make a success of our key product in Spain."

IBS is the most common functional disorder of the gastrointestinal tract, characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and irregular bowel function. It affects an estimated 10–20% of the western world's population and greatly affects patients' quality of life.

Also at the symposium, Robert Welch, PhD, (Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health, University of Ulster, Coleraine, UK) described several human studies that had examined the satiating properties of nondigestible carbohydrates, of which inulin and oligofructose are key examples.

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, nine patients were given a low fiber diet plus either oligofructose or placebo. A week later, after a further test meal, plasma GLP-1 levels were found to be higher in the oligofructose group, suggesting stimulation of this satiety hormone.

The effects of inulin-type fructans were examined in another double-blind, crossover trial in which 11 healthy adults consumed either a placebo or an oligofructose formula for two weeks. Energy intakes were approximately 3% lower in the fiber group, and although the results failed to reach statistical significance, those subjects lost more weight. Importantly, the fiber supplementation appeared to be successful at inducing satiety.

Similar changes in satiety and energy intake were seen in a single-blind crossover study in which 10 healthy adults received 8 g of oligofructose (OraftiP95) twice daily for two weeks. Reported satiety at breakfast and at dinner was significantly higher when subjects received oligofructose compared with the control diet. Consequently, total energy intake over the course of the day was reduced by about 5%.

More trials are needed to fully investigate these encouraging results and to examine the mechanisms by which inulin and oligo-fructose beneficially impact appetite, satiety, energy intake, and body composition.

One thing is already abundantly clear: with obesity affecting an increasing number of adults and children globally, there is an urgent need for diet and lifestyle solutions to help people maintain a healthy body weight and avoid the many adverse health effects associated with excessive caloric intake.

With each passing year, more and more clinical evidence is showing that prebiotic ingredients like inulin and oligofructose have the power to directly address not only these but also other very timely digestive health issues as well.

To date, inulin and oligofructose have proven themselves fully able to deliver on their promise of bringing better nutrition to processed foods and to improve the taste and textural properties of reduced-fat, reduced-sugar, and reduced-calorie formulations that represent healthier and more beneficial choices for all of us.

Joseph O'Neil is vice president of sales and marketing for BENEO-Orafti (Morris Plains, NJ). Prior to joining BENEO-Orafti in 1998, he spent 12 years in the food ingredients industry both in the United States and Europe, serving in management positions in new product and new business development. He holds a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry and a master of science degree in industrial microbiology from Dublin City University, Ireland. For more information about BENEO-Orafti, visit

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