Prebiotics Boosting More Than Just Gut Health
Many people are well familiar with the concept of probiotics, the friendly bacteria that are being increasingly added to many food products such as yoghurt drinks or used in supplement form. Less seems to be known, though, about the concept of prebiotics. But maybe it is time that prebiotics took centre stage?
Unlike probiotics, the friendly bacteria, prebiotics are non-digestible fibres providing food for the friendly bacteria. Prebiotics are becoming increasingly popular because of their ability to promote gut health, specifically boosting populations of beneficial bifido-bacteria, which in turn may translate into medical benefits for relieving symptoms in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.
But could this symbiosis between our gut bacteria and the health of the host (our health) extend beyond the reaches of the gastro-intestinal tract? Evidence shows that the composition of our gut microbiota is one of critical pillars of our wellbeing and health. Apart from direct effects on our gut health, prebiotics are gaining growing interest for their ability to regulate immune health. For instance, administration of a prebiotic called galacto-oligosaccharide was found to have positive effect on the immune system of older people, as shown by improvement in phagocytosis and NK cell activity, reduced secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-6, IL-1b, and TNFa) and enhanced secretion of anti-inflammatory IL-10. Moreover, prebiotics may also control bone health due to their ability to boost calcium absorption and calcium accretion in bone and increase bone mineral density, mainly in adolescents.
Recent evidence suggests that prebiotics may have a positive influence on various aspects of the metabolic syndrome, a cluster of metabolic factors which occur together (such as central obesity, glucose intolerance, hypertension and dyslipidemia), which furthermore dangerously increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even some types of cancer. What catches the eye is the fact that the study was conducted using a second generation prebiotic preparation called Bimuno (available from Clasado). The second generation billing comes from the fact that its new trans-galactooligosaccharides mixture (B-GOS) not only promotes the growth of beneficial bifidobacteria but it also inhibits the adhesion of bad bacteria to the gut wall.
This double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled, crossover study tested the effects of Bimuno on markers of metabolic syndrome, gut microbiota and immune system functioning in 45 overweight adults with three or more risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome. Firstly, it found that administration of the prebiotic lead to a reduction in the number of less beneficial Gram-negative bacteria and a rise in the number of more beneficial Gram-positive bifido-bacteria. Secondly, positive effects on the immune response were observed, as seen by improvements in blood and fecal inflammatory markers (CRP and calprotectin) and increased secretion of fecal sIgA. And most notably, the administration of this specific prebiotic to overweight adults improved some markers of cardio-metabolic risk, specifically decreases in insulin, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
It seems counter-intuitive to think that just fuelling our good bacteria in this way could have major universal effects on cardio-metabolic health. But only until we appreciate that this research has shown clear differences in the gut microbiota of obese and lean individuals. Compared with lean people, the gut microbiota of obese people differs both in composition (reduced levels of bifido-bacteria and elevated levels of less desirable bacteria) and its metabolic activity. What we see here is an ”obese microbiota’’ which has been postulated to modulate host energy homeostasis and adiposity through a variety of mechanisms.
Once we look at this puzzle through the prism of the modulation of the gut microbiota, it becomes plausible that a sophisticated prebiotic preparation could make a difference at the metabolic level. It is yet another proof of the complicated inter-relationship between us and the microbiota we play host to.