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Prebiotic effects on health and weight management

CARRIE RUXTON

Nutrition Communications, 26 East Road, Cupar, KY15 4HQ, United Kingdom

Abstract

Prebiotics are functional food ingredients that offer potential benefits for digestive well-being, particularly in circumstances where the gut is compromised by antibiotic use or exposure to pathogens. A growing body of evidence also points towards wider health effects, including infant health, enhanced mineral absorption and weight management. Prebiotics act by stimulating the growth and activity of selected species of bacteria in the large intestine, including bifidobacteria and lactobacillus. As much of the research on prebiotics has been performed on inulin and oligofructose, these offer the most effective route for influencing health across the lifecycle.


INTRODUCTION

Gut health remains a topic of interest to consumers and health professionals alike. In 2012, international food analysts New Nutrition Business ranked digestive health as number three in their top ten trends, noting that women, seniors and consumers in their thirties and forties were most likely to express a need for gut health products. This reflects evidence on digestive disorders in Europe where around 30% of the population has experienced fullness, bloating, discomfort, and altered bowel habit (1), while 10-15% go on to develop irritable bowel syndrome (2).
Yet, gut health is much more than the well-being of the digestive tract. The large intestine, or colon, is home to around 1014 bacteria from hundreds of different species – collecti