Shining a light on prebiotics:
their role in human health
Prebiotics are gaining recognition for their potential health benefits, particularly for their role in feeding the beneficial bacteria within the GI tract. However, there is much to be learned about the role of prebiotics, particularly differences between prebiotics that relate to structure and degree of polymerization, which impact their function and ability to modulate the gut microbiome. This article provides some history regarding prebiotics, a discussion of sources and different types of prebiotics, their health impacts, and distinguishing features.
There is growing consumer awareness about probiotics and the role that they may play in health promotion, but consumer awareness regarding prebiotics is still somewhat limited. Prebiotics can play an important synergistic role with probiotics, as so-called “synbiotics”, but also have an important independent role in feeding the microbiota already present within us. In this article, we discuss the health benefits and sources of various prebiotics, while also outlining differentiating factors.
While humans have consumed prebiotics for millennia, as part of their regular diets, the important role of prebiotics in human health has only just begun to be elucidated. Prebiotics are non-digestible substrates that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, particularly in the distal part of the colon, ultimately leading to health benefits. These prebiotic compounds are also referred to as “non-digestible oligosaccharides”, or “microbiota accessible carbohydrates” ( MACs). For many of us, our first exposure to prebiotics is from breast milk, which serves to promote the growth of beneficial gastrointestinal bacteria in infants, aidi ...